Monday, January 19, 2009

A Great Day for a Soapbox

Lord knows I don’t ask you for much. Then again, Lord knows I don’t give you very much with this blog. So, let’s do a little bit of giving, eh?

Martin Luther King, Jr. would be 84 if he were alive today. And, I can’t help but wonder how the world would be different if those events hadn’t transpired nearly 40 years ago. I’d like to think they’d be better, but you never know. What I do know is this; YOU can make it better.

15 years ago, Congress decided to shift the focus on this day to more of a “service” day and encouraged citizens to spend their time off volunteering. Bet you probably didn’t know that (which goes to show how effective Congress can be about spreading a cohesive, non-partisan message). So, let me ask you this: How much time did you spend in the past year volunteering? I don’t care how much money you gave to charity last year. That’s not the point. Did you take any time whatsoever trying to make the tiniest little corner of the world a better place?

Look, I know that No is so much easier to say than Yes. Yes has 50% more letters than No, so it’s not just a word thing, it’s a numbers thing. Yes is hard. Yes requires a commitment. Yes requires accountability. Yes requires you to spend some evenings avoiding “Gossip Girls.” The requirements of Yes are infinite.

Don’t let that scare you.

The requirements of Yes are infinite. You know what? So are the possibilities. There’s some good stuff floating around in that head of yours. Chances are, there’s also some good stuff floating around in your heart. Why don’t you tap into both of them and share that good stuff with someone who could use it?

You have something to offer. So, offer it. If you need ideas, think about the things you love, the things you know, the things that bring people together. There are a bajillion organizations out there, and I can’t think of a single one that doesn’t need your time.

True story. In the fall of 1996, I was finished with grad school and having trouble finding the kind of work I wanted to do. Even though I wasn’t working, I knew I could be doing something. So, I called up the guys who used to run the local Boy’s Club I attended as a kid. Turns out they were still doing it, so I asked if I could help. What did I have to do? Just show up for a couple hours every week and spend time with some kids. Maybe take them camping a few times per year. Maybe help run some fundraisers for them. Whatever I felt comfortable doing, I could do.

So, I did. And here’s the thing: it was awesome. Once a week, for a couple of hours, I didn’t have to worry about not having a job, or money, or a love interest. None of that mattered. All that mattered was that for one day every week, I had given my life some sort of purpose. I found a job about a month or so later. I hated it, but I tolerated it because I knew there were some kids out there who depended on me to give a damn every week. As long as I had that, things would get better. Over the years, I’ve gotten a better job. Found a person who made my life infinitely better. Fathered a child who is more incredible at age 5 than I could ever hope to be. 13 years later, though, I’m still giving a damn about those kids.

But, I didn’t intend this to be about me. I wanted it to be about you. We stand on the eve of an historic day. Whether you voted for Obama, or didn’t, there’s no denying that our world has been drastically changed by the power of volunteers. A large part of Obama’s campaign success came from the fact that he inspired a large group of people to not just give him money, but to give him time as well. He persuaded people to volunteer for him and his vision for this country. Think it worked?

Go ahead, give somebody your time and your belief. Yes is too big a word to ignore.

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