Helping to create change in the world isn’t always easy to figure out. There are so many “causes” and “obligations” out there it can be hard to know what to do. Sometimes we want to just throw our disposable cash in the air and hope for the best.
Take heart. There’s a better way. It’s less about finding a cause and more about what makes you come alive.
We can all take a less from Gord Downie on this.
He has terminal brain cancer. Many people face down terminal illnesses every day. Each of them have a story that matters.
However, the thing about Gord Downie is that he isn’t focused on his own story right now in his race against time.
He’s focused on the story of a 12-year-old aboriginal boy that died 50 years ago.
His newest project, Secret Path, is devoted to Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Ojibway boy that died from hunger and exposure after trying to find his way home from a residential school near Kenora, Ontario, fifty years ago. The proceeds from the Secret Path project and shows are going towards the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s efforts to continue to bring healing to First Nations and the past that haunts us all.
So why bring this up now? Fifty years is a long time ago. Especially when eternity is knocking at the door of your own life. Is it that he feels obligated to do something about it?
In August of 2016, the nation of Canada sat down in living rooms and bars from sea to sea and watched Gord and his band, The Tragically Hip, play their last concert together. It was a simple concert with great music, many tears, adoring fans and a man at centre stage who had just undergone brain surgery a few months earlier. They didn’t reminisce about their career or successes. They hardly talked at all. They simply did what they have always done: played great music that my generation grew up with.
Music that brought them joy and they shared that joy with the world.
The prime minister of Canada was in the crowd. Other than the simple thank you’s that the band said, the one other time there was a moment to reflect, Mr. Downie talked about the vision of Canadians to have truth and reconciliation, as he spoke across the crowd to the prime minister.
Again, why should you care? Truth and reconciliation may be important for the nation of Canada, but if you aren’t Canadian, they mean very little.
However, if you are someone who wants to leave a legacy in the world, there is something here for you. Think about this: why would a man want to dedicate his precious, limited time on earth to put himself through the rigours and the production of such a massive undertaking? All for something that happened largely before he was even old enough to remember?
Surely he can’t be doing it out of obligation.
Surely he know that we all would have given him a free pass on the guilt train if he simply would have touched his heart and said, “Okay, bye for no. I am backing away. I would like to just pull in and focus on my health and my family.” That would be understandable. It would even be probably what he would be advised to do, over and over again.
But he isn’t. It seems to me that there’s something that’s pulling him forward beyond the pain of a diagnosis. Something that would be cheapened by calling it a “cause”.
There are a lot of great causes to get behind in our lives. There are endless problems in the world that need attention. One might even argue that we should take action because it’s the right thing to do; that when we have so much we should feel the obligation to do more.
I don’t buy into that. In fact, whenever I hear social change and obligation together, I bristle.
- obligation requires showing up, not leaning in
- obligation says that everything needs to have an end date you are working towards; when you are focused on creating lasting hope and change, the power is in the process and vision
- obligation indicates that you are bound to doing things a certain way; creating hope and change calls to the creative genius inside of each of us to turn dreams into action
- obligation defines people by labels and categories; creating hope and change recognizes the shared experience of being human
I don’t want to create change out of obligation – do you? There is zero joy in that.
I am not interested in obligation being what motivates me to raise my voice or take just action. I have enough obligations in my life from credit card bills to dental appointments.
Worse yet, who wants to be defined as someone else’s obligation?
How would you like to be a cause to be taken up or a problem to be solved? Where is the humanity in labelling lives and events as causes or problems?
Healing our world is not an item on a check list – even when you know your time on earth is limited.
Helping to restore dreams that others have not been able to yet see fulfilled is not like a boy scout badge to be obtained.
We are human. We hurt. We experience the atrocities and injustice of others who forget their humanity. We long for relief from suffering – for someone to stop and say, “I see you. I remember you. I honour who you are.”
When we are the ones who have it within our power and influence to do something about it we should never do it for the obligation of our power of position.
We should do it for the joy of who we are.
I probably won’t get to ask him why he is doing all of this at this stage in his life, but I am guessing that part of the reason is for the pure joy of being able to be fully alive and fully human.
If you are someone who has been frantically looking for a cause to get behind, please stop. Take a break from the insatiable need to be validated.
If you’ve been banging the drum from the soap box of obligation, why not take a break from beating yourself and everyone else up?
Create change for the sheer joy of being human.
Add your resources to the good that is going on in the world simply to honour our shared humanity.
Love who you are and what you bring to the world – and the world will be easy to love for who they are, as well.