I have been involved with different social action initiatives and projects for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is of a Hands-On Atlanta project, when my family came out to volunteer with them. I don’t know what we were doing, really, except that it involved cinderblocks, and planting leriope as well as some other flowers. And there was a lot of paint around.
Community service is, to me, a way of life. Paying a motion forwards, or repaying a community. Raising money for the sake of specific causes.
The list goes on and on.
My point is that my parents really pushed both my brother and me to be involved. To be grateful for what we have, and to help others. It’s never been a thing that took effort to want to be involved in. The opportunities have been everywhere, and the idea of social action has always permeated the atmosphere of day-to-day life. I guess, on some level, I expect other people to share that point of view.
That’s why it shocked me when, less than a week ago, I told a good friend of mine that I would be spending my day attending a social action workshop, and he asked me, “What’s social action? Is it just like, being social? No thanks.”
I was floored. I scrambled for a definition that would not sound too religious or controversial. I refused to use the term “charity”, because that is not what it is. I could not use the term “community service”, because that’s not quite it either.
I think the best answer I could come up with “working to fix the world”.
But to be honest, none of these quite sum it up. Because really, social action is so much more than that. The world does need “fixing”. And social action does a good job of helping to do that. But it also consists of spreading contagious goodwill throughout the world. It’s all about taking the resources you have, and doing what you can to help a cause you are passionate about. No one ever starts from nothing, the trick is figuring out what you have, and who you have, and what the issue is. And then you go out there and you do something about that issue.
A lot of people seem to be under the impression that social action is really just fundraising. To be fair, a lot of organizations— well-respected, successful organizations—treat it as such. The truth is, fundraising can play a big role, but it’s not even the main part of social action. The main part of social action is something so unimaginably simple, yet incredibly complex, that people often forget it exists.
It all starts with an idea.
Many other people seem to believe that the purpose of working for a social action project, or volunteering, is to feel better about yourself by the end of it. They do have a point. By the time I finish working on a project, or volunteering with a great organization, I do feel good about myself. But to be entirely honest, it isn’t a self-gratification feeling. Not really. And the reason for that is that I am truly passionate about the projects I work on. I never work on them because it will make me feel better about the obscene amount of money I spent on a pair of shoes. I work on them because it feels really good knowing that I have made a difference, and I don’t even need the rest of the world to know that I have made that difference. All I need is the knowledge that a movement has begun and that it will continue to live even after I am not involved with it. The GivingPoint Institute, the group I work with now, calls it A Passion To Action.
And that’s what it is.
I came away from this workshop incredibly energized. I was speaking extremely quickly about all of my inspiration and plans for the future, and I still feel that way. I went home and I wrote up and organized the data I needed. I prioritized the social action projects ahead of my more academic work. I am perfectly serious about everything I say and do relating to these projects. There is very little in this entire world, save creative writing, that can inspire me the way social action does. And I think that more people in this world could stand to learn something like that, because everyone deserves to feel this way.
I love social action. I’ve loved it since I was little. Not because I can feel better about myself, but because I can feel better about this world, knowing that there are some incredible people out there making incredible differences in this world, and I am so lucky and so grateful to be working alongside them.
So when someone asks me to define ‘social action’, it’s no wonder I freeze up a little bit. I hope that someday, everyone will find a social passion that they care about enough to put as much effort into as I have mine. And I hope that someday, no one will need a definition.
But in the meantime, I’m happy to share what I know.