Sunday, November 14, 2010

Our Greatest Hope is to Give Back

The tiny but enthusiastic Women & Girls Fund of Middlesex County, Conn. needed money. They dared to ask Arianna Huffington if she would come to speak, and she said yes. Granted, it gave her a chance to visit her daughters along the way to this sleepy rural area, but saying yes reminded me once again what a true honor and privilege it is to write for The Huffington Post, and what a role model Arianna is for everyone who dares to blend brains and heart into one package.

Literally squeezing in time to speak before a live uplink to Larry King, Arianna spoke of the disconnect between the experience of everyday people and what is happening in Washington. For the first time in generations, two thirds of adults believe their children will be worse off financially than they are. The fundamental belief in upward mobility has shattered, and even the most hopeful are picking up the shards of "yes we can" with a deeply shaken resolve.

Many positive changes have been happening in our economy, but we seem unable to let the fear and finger-pointing go. Arianna posed the question: why do we, as individuals and as communities, continue to focus on our deficits? How does this serve us? Why not focus on our surpluses?

"Where is the abundance? She challenged. "With nearly 27 million people out of work, that means one out of six Americans is suffering. Yet, we have an abundance of time, skills and resources that are not being utilized. This is a moment of choice to take countervailing action."

We have been trained by 24/7 news to put a magnifying glass on what is not working. With the change of power, everyone is preparing themselves for a dirty couple of years of gridlock, mudslinging and righteous "Party of No" speeches that will surround our psyches like cicadas on a hot summer night.

Finger-pointing at Washington is somewhat cathartic, but in reality, most of us have a "party of no" going on inside our heads all day long. In fact, most people have thousands of negative thoughts per day! It takes work to turn those negative voices off and instead place the magnifying glass on what is working. Better yet, how about taking a step further and celebrating what is working?

Give back. Strengthening the lives of individuals in our communities is the way out. Inspiring others to do more opens up a life of collaboration and meaning. Out of work? Yes, it is horrendous, but in between the hours of job-hunting, get out in the community; take your skills and put them into action in some meaningful way. Being unemployed wounds the self-esteem so profoundly, the balm of useful work can build a bridge towards unimagined new opportunities that pull towards the future; instead of wallowing in the past.

Seth Reams was one of those unemployed folks in Portland, Oregon. He was becoming deeply depressed, until his girlfriend cajoled him to get out of his funk, put the job hunt aside, and start volunteering. He realized that there were so many people who needed help, and so many who had skills to give, decided to start an entity called We've Got Time to Help, which helps to place those with time and skills with those who need it. The Huffington Post named him a Game Changer, and now 75 cities across the U.S. and in four other countries want to start similar programs.

Dylan Ratigan introduced him at the Game Changer awards. Addressing the audience, Ratigan said:

Can you take the events that are beyond yourself and your own life and figure out a way to not let those events make you feel less powerful, to not let those events make you feel less able, but to utilize those events to empower not only yourself and making yourself more able, but to shift the entire psychology of the way that you deal with the world, from asking a question which is, 'Why did the world not give me this? What can the world give me? Why has the world not given me what I want?' and change that question to, 'What can I give to the world?' as an internal changing of the game, if you will.

Here is a clip of Ratigan introducing Reams, who is clearly stunned at the incredible chain of events that put him there:

In his most recent blog, Reams asks, "We, you and I, are game changers. Do you have the guts to change the game?"

Bryan Nurnberger is another person who took difficult circumstances and reinvented himself through a passion to give back. A professional rock climbing instructor in Colorado, Nurnberger sustained so many injuries that he could hardly close his fist. His career gone, he had no idea what to do next, so he decided to hike the mountains of Mexico. It was there that he stumbled upon an orphanage that captured his heart and changed his life.

He raised funds to help the orphanage, and then was led to a desperate area of the southern Mexican jungle. Over 500,000 people were starving to death, literally living on boiled leaves, as their coffee bean industry had been lost to big name corporations. Nurnberger took the matter to heart, raised more money by bringing people down to the villages with him, and started Simply Smiles. Nine years later, his passion project supplies a full month's provisions of food ($15,000 per month) to over 3,000 people. Some villagers literally walk 16 hours with their family each way to get there. The short-term relief is allowing them to rebuild their coffee crops, and Nurnberger now sells the delicious brew on his website. Need coffee? Check it out and know you are making a difference:

Whether it is converting unemployment depression into a new profession, or just lending a hand, we all can turn our lives around, and those of the people around us. I think the "greatest person of the day" award goes to Allen and Violet Large, a couple in Canada who won $11 million in a lottery and gave away 98 percent of it -- $10.6 million -- mostly to local fire departments, churches, cemeteries and the local Red Cross.

How has giving back helped you through a difficult time in your life? Do you have a passion project? Please drop a comment below and contribute to our weekly conversations. I will be writing more about passion projects in upcoming posts and just may feature your ideas and comments. Follow me by clicking "Become a Fan" at the top of this page.

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