I’ve been in discussion in the last day with someone who asked others to send energy on 9/11 to help solve problems in the Middle East. And I realised why these requests bother me (and why I don’t do things that way).
In short: I think that a vague general ‘send energy to help really big vague cause’ is equivalent to walking to a lake, pouring in a cup of water, and expecting it to end a drought. If just a few people do it, you don’t get very far. But even if a thousand or a million people do it – you might have some more water in the lake, but you still have a drought. You haven’t solved the underlying problem. Instead, you have a bunch of people who’ve spent time and energy doing one thing – and so couldn’t spend that time and energy doing something that would have a more direct benefit on the world. (Our time, and the number of things we can do in that time, is a finite number, of course.)
As I said in reply to this particular discussion, I think it’s a lot more useful to focus on the things I most directly affect.
This has guided me to work in education (where adults can have a lot of influence on the next generation – both directly with the students they work with, and more broadly as those students grow up and talk to other people.) But you can also have a substantial effect through volunteer work in the local community – or just plain conversations with family and friends about the issues that concern you.
One of the things I like about this approach that you get direct feedback – when the energy you’re pouring out is personal and close to home – about how well it’s working. You can see a direct change in the world around you (or not) and adjust what you’re doing until it’s the change you want. That goes whether you’re sending out energy, or doing physical tasks.
I’ll give one recent example: over the summer, I rearranged my library. (My, in the sense that it’s the one I’m responsible for, as a teacher librarian at a school.) I wanted to create a more intentional sense of space use, and to avoid a couple of ongoing issues. That’s a physical action – but it’s rooted in a desire to change the energy of the place, and to direct the kinds of intentional work I want there (things that are a lot more fuzzy and indirect.)
And yet, despite those things being indirect, I’ve had *many* comments (from both faculty and students) about how much they love the new space. Not from everyone, of course. (A few students have been put out that the corner I can’t see from my desk no longer has tables, and instead has shelving). But in general, people have been very enthusiastic – and more to that, the noise levels and traffic patterns have worked out the way I hoped. (Lots of quiet conversations, but not tons of people being purely social, or distracting others.)
But I also recognise, that at this point in the school year, I don’t have a lot of ‘spare’ energy. I’ve been working 50 and 55 hour weeks. I’m still getting my sleep schedule down so that I get enough sleep before I wake up at 5:30. I’ve been coming home tired, with my brain full, and my energy at low ebb – because I’m spending a lot of my energy and attention getting my work year off to the best possible start, and doing my best to support the students and faculty I work with.
That leaves very little energy left to send out vaguely with no particular direction.
And doing so, in fact, makes me wary. Besides the fact that I don’t actually thing it’s terribly effective, one of my first jobs as a priestess is to take care of myself – because no one’s going to do it for me. It’s up to me to make sure I eat a sensible diet and get enough sleep. It’s up to me to get some exercise in there. And it’s up to me to make sure I don’t drain myself to the point of uselessness unless it’s truly a critical need.
The past few weeks, I’ve been able to do a good job at work (though I find my concentration disappearing rapidly at the end of the day sometimes, no matter how much I try to get it back.) I’ve been able to keep my home mostly clean (though I have some cleaning to do today.) I’ve been able to check in with friends and have some enjoyable social time.
But I also know I need to take care of myself, or I won’t be able to do all of that next week. And the week after. And so on. (And I have some things – like our upcoming Pagan Pride weekend – that are going to demand more and more energy from me between now and the event in early October.)
And I’m also aware of some other things. H1N1 has started going around at the school I work at (and as a librarian, I’m particularly prone to exposure.) Exhaustion does a number on your immune system. That long-term management of chronic conditions (asthma and migraines) means I need to be extra careful not to drain my reserves (especially in the fall, which is my worst season for allergies.) And I need to balance the shielding and personal energy management that being around a lot of teenagers with strong emotions tends to require for me.
Which means that “send general energy to a vague cause” is not only not high on my list of things to do, it’s not even on the list at all. It almost never is, unless I’m in a situation where I actually have excess energy (and the attention and time to direct it properly) which .. well, rarely happens. A couple of times a year, maybe.
Instead, I’m going to keep doing the stuff that’s closer to me, that I can see a direct impact in, so that I can use my energy, my focus, my attention, my time in a way that has as much impact as possible. And where I can adjust and refine what I’m doing so that it’s as effective as possible. I certainly continue to do things like communicate desires to my elected officials, or to encourage and support places that produce greater understanding of people from other cultures or places on the planet. But most of what I do is closer to home, and those more distant things are things that have a clear direction, specific desire, and a well-defined goal.