Written by Sheldon Smart of yegForward
Photo by Urban Exposure Participant Vina Nguyen
‘What do you call a barrel of raw sewage, with a drop of fine Bordeaux wine in it? A barrel of raw sewage, of course…
Now, what do you call a barrel of fine Bordeaux wine, with a drop of raw sewage in it? For most of us, the answer is again, a barrel of raw sewage’
This is how a good friend of mine helped explain the downside of ‘All or Nothing’ mentality. Too often when it comes to people choosing to support something or not, it comes down to an all or nothing decision. We see this all the time, with politics, sports teams, in our commitment to diet and exercise, just as examples – we feel compelled to either be 100% invested, or not invested at all. And because few things in life, if any, perfectly align with our expectations, we find it too easy to simply discount many worthwhile things that compete for our attention, commitment and support. We find a spot on the apple, and toss the whole thing, not stopping to acknowledge that there may still be an immense amount of value to things, even when they aren’t 100% of what we’d like them to be. Examples: Good ideas can come from both ends of the political spectrum – no one party has the market cornered, but many of us in Canada as citizens, when frustrated by the political system and the sheer volume of information, often choose apathy over participation. We spot a flaw, and toss the rest. Our health is often another good example. Finding time to go to the gym, and faced with the endless volumes of competing exercise/diet theories out there, most of us who get off to a healthy start in the new year, will abandon within only a few months. Busy schedule with competing demands, mixed results… all make it hard to stay committed and go everyday, so instead of deciding to simply adjust to only going once or twice a week and recognizing this is still worthwhile, we stop going altogether and find ourselves back on the couch watching Netflicks. This is all or nothing mentality.
Support for your community isn’t that different. In Canada there are many causes, organizations and charities to support – in fact there are 122,917 listed with CRA in 2015 to choose from. Trying to determine where to invest your time, energy and dollars can seem daunting.
In my line of work, I have a pleasure of meeting and speaking with all kinds of people, from the most inspired and active community supporters, to the disinterested/apathetic, to even the passionate naysayers. Although there is no discernable demographic trend that I’ve noticed to any of these three groups, to me, there is one clear and significant differentiator – those who choose to support their community share the simple belief that doing something is better than nothing, that just because you can’t do it all, or agree with it all, doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t do something. This is a powerful point of view, because it allows people to take action and help, even though they may not be certain a particular cause is the most meaningful to them, or if they agree with everything that’s done, or how every detail is handled. In fact, they may discover massive room for improvement and major flaws in the work, but that doesn’t deter them from rolling up their sleeves and still do what they can to help. To them, it’s not a binary, yes or no decision, because they recognize that there are people who need help, diseases to cure, and yes, challenges to overcome right here, right now and waiting for everything to be perfect, will be too late for those in need today.
In this way, these people choose to step off the sidelines, and be leaders at many levels. Some lead by choosing to help someone they know, while others choose community level initiatives, and some pursue large-scale global issues. Regardless of where they lend their support, they all still choose to take part, despite the flaws, despite the things they may wish they could change.
In our Alberta Capital Region alone, we have 120,000+ people living in poverty and 40,000+ of those are children under the age of 18. That’s real. That’s a clear and immediate need for leaders in our community right here, right now. And stepping up to help, to support something, doesn’t mean it needs to be perfect, or that you need to agree with every detail of how the system works or doesn’t work – you can still step up, take part, have a positive impact for those in need, now and in the future.
This doesn’t mean that you’re accepting the status quo or throwing in the towel on improving or changing the system to find better and more impactful ways to deliver community support. In fact, in taking part the community needs you to stay committed to that. The best definition of sustainable transformational change is the culmination of small-steps-change over time. If you want to see change stop playing armchair quarterback. Stop looking at this decision as a BIG ‘all or nothing’ binary situation. Start small if you like. Volunteer an hour a month for a cause you find interesting. Donate to something that’s meaningful to you. Go on a tour of a local agency. Learn, explore, collaborate, gain more perspective on what’s being done or not being done and find out why. Simply put, do more than nothing. Lead the change you want see. The more of us that take that up the better off we’ll all be.
Originally appeared on yegForward and is reprinted here with permission.