Do What’s In Front of You

Recently, a friend was sharing with me her efforts at organizing her neighborhood’s response to a proposed housing development. I had seen her on tv discussing this matter and praised her for her leadership and involvement. Smiling shyly, she diminished her efforts by saying that they paled in comparison to “real” problems like starving children in Africa. I’ve thought a lot about her response since then.

While much has been said about “first world problems” versus “third world problems,” I believe that the matter of where we invest our efforts has a lot to do with where we can be most effective. Individuals, groups, or societies have problems in context, and it’s important to remember that when evaluating our efforts to give back. For instance, are my efforts to get a speed camera installed along the road on which I live less important than higher profile, global challenges? Perhaps, but perhaps not. If traffic isn’t slowed, somebody is going to get in a horrific accident on my street—there’s simply too much traffic these days and DC drivers are always in a hurry. The likelihood of my success on this small scale is a lot higher than if I threw all my waking hours into assisting with fighting breast cancer or polio immunization.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s not that one person can’t make a difference in some of these “bigger” challenges, but my point is not to diminish the efforts in a more localized radius. Just because something is a neighborhood problem does not mean it’s less worthy of advocacy than the child slave trade or ground water contamination or whathaveyou. I believe that starting at home makes the most sense in terms of contributing to our communities because we have the first hand knowledge of the problem and smarter theories as to how to abate it. I find myself perplexed when I hear of Save the Whale campaigns being conducted in the mid-West. How effective can one be lobbying for clean oceans from Kansas?

I use this example only to get you thinking. I admire the fact that nearly every person I meet wants to contribute positively and give back over the course of their life. How we each choose to do this varies according to the person and their capabilities. What the Gates Foundation can do is radically different from what a single person can manage, but that does not diminish the efforts of the individual. To me, it makes most sense to start with the challenges staring at us on a daily basis. These are the problems we will understand best and have the greatest likelihood of making positive change. It’s too easy to tell ourselves that our efforts don’t “count” because they aren’t part of a national dialogue. Besides, there are many, many, many ways people contribute that address needs not seen as “problems,” take, for instance, community enrichment activities. Does leading a scout troop or teaching an art class count for nothing compared to distributing anti-malaria netting? Again, this is all about context and where we can be effective.

Re-booters recognize that, like the Little Drummer Boy, small gifts of ourselves, our time, and our efforts can play an equally important role in the lives of those around us. Don’t sell yourself short. Do what you can and be proud of that.


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One Response to “Do What’s In Front of You”

  1. jbarriebuchanan Says:

    Oh my! Thank you 🙂

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