Thursday, September 20, 2007

Don't ask. Act.

Last night, I sat as a panelist at a forum on Homelessness -- finding solutions. Homelessness is in the news a lot these days. It's a crisis in our cities and towns. It's a crisis in our lives.

My forte has never been to think fast, answer fast. Panels scare me.

Last night, I had to overcome my fear and participate. Challenging. Invigorating. Freeing.

Fear is like that. It mires us in self-doubt. In worry. In inaction.

Thomas Jefferson is credited with saying, "Don't ask. Act."

Last night, I heeded Jefferson's advice. I didn't ask myself, why am I doing this. I acted upon my decision to say 'yes' when asked to participate on that panel.

Now, I need to ask a couple of people there to tell me three things I could have done to be more effective -- and then act on their advice.

Sometimes, it's hard to walk into a situation with my 'beginner's mind' open to new ways of doing, learning and participating.

Fear motivates me to hunker down, turtleize. Courage encourages me to open up to curiosity and risk looking stupid to become wise.

Last night was my perfect opportunity to practice my beginner's mind. I know a great deal about the emotional costs of homelessness, both on a personal and professional level. I don't have a wealth of knowledge about the infrastructure costs to society -- time to increase my knowledge base by acting on what I know I don't know -- time to educate myself through actively seeking out information that will increase my knowledge base.

More importantly, however, last night gave me the chance to do something different -- and to make a difference through actively listening to what people had to say. They came to the forum to learn and share their experience. They came because they care. They came because they don't want to sit back and do nothing. They want to be heard. To participate. To act.

Somewhere in my head I have a tape that whispers, "Why bother. Nothing ever changes."

I didn't identify that tape clearly until last night. Underlying my participation was the sibilant hiss of that tape winding through the channels of my mind.

Pretty cool to see in action the power of letting go of a tape that has mired me in inaction for so long.

Pretty cool to wake-up to the realization that any tape that would have me sit back and do nothing -- is wrong. It's the lie.

Because even when I'm doing nothing -- I'm doing something. I'm doing that which will not get me more of what I want in my life.

This morning, I'm off and running early. I've got a press conference that I've organized for the release of a report I've co-authored on the perceptions and experiences of homeless individuals and crime. Two hundred and eighty-four clients of the shelter where I work answered a series of questions about their experiences. It's humbling.

Seventy-three percent of them have been victimized and of those who were, seventy-one percent have been victimized more than once.

Seventy-three percent of them answered they couldn't be bothered to tell the police when asked if they reported the crime. Why? Because they didn't think it would make a difference. ''

I have no idea what difference I'll make when I take action. I do know what I'll accomplish when I take no action -- nothing. Nada. Rien de tout.

And yet, in my inaction, I send a message loud and clear to the world around me -- in my inaction I'm saying, have your way. Do what you want. I am mired in ambivalence.

When we stay with abusers, when we stay in jobs we hate, in marriages that are killing us, when we tolerate the unacceptable, our inaction is the action of defeat. It speaks volumes.

"Don't ask. Act."

The question is: Where in your life are you using questions as the excuse to not take action. Where are you lying to yourself that your inaction is not a choice?


Hugh said...

You wrote: "When we stay with abusers, when we stay in jobs we hate, in marriages that are killing us, when we tolerate the unacceptable, our inaction is the action of defeat. It speaks volumes."

Marriages "that are killing us..." may be so one year and the next year may be the very opposite. Jobs may be stultifying one week and stimulating the next. "Abusers" are not always abusers. The abused too often allow themselves to be abused. Geographical changes do not necessarily change much. I was the director of a homeless shelter for five years and noticed that geographical changes seldom work, but gaining some genuine insight into one's problems might bring genuine change in dealing with life's problems. The homeless too often become homeless over again. Developing ways of looking into oneself and gaining some understanding of why we/they are the way we/they are might be a start to genuine change. I don't mean to imply that helping a single mother find a place to live won't make a huge difference in her life, nor finding employment for people who have been marginalized. But there is a certain percentage of the homeless who need psychological counseling and other kinds of spiritual and psychological help so that repetitive patterns don't completely erode their self-confidence.

M.L. Gallagher said...

Very profound words Hugh. Thank you for sharing.

In my experience, I cannot change or heal what I do not acknowledge. I could not change the abuser in my life, but I could stop abuse in my life by finding understanding of why I was the way I was.

At the shelter where I work, jobs and homes are not the answer -- they help, they are tangible. What is most important, as you say, is that people begin the process of genuine change so that repetitive patterns can be broken -- before the person is.

Thanks again!