The imperfect effort

A success: One Good Deed Chicago planned a day of service at Douglas Park Oct. 22, drawing 130+ Chicagoans to help beautify and clean up the park.

Since I wrote last, the day-to-day of my VISTA work has been an ever-changing ride of successes and setbacks. Some days, it’s been thrilling, meeting new people who are doing incredible work in the city. Other days, it’s seemed a bit like an uphill battle.

Fortunately, I’ve been drawing inspiration from the book Soul of a Citizen, by Paul Rogat Loeb. Loeb tears down the barriers and myths that keep many people from getting involved in activism. Loeb writes that even though we may have no money, support or clout; even though we may not know all the complexities of an issue; even though we may think we’re way too low on the totem pole, we can still do something. We must keep out of the sticky trap of the “perfect standard” — wanting to find the perfect issue to get involved in, know everything about it, be able to express it eloquently and powerfully, etc. — if we want to get anything done. It’s better to be imperfect, or “good enough,” and chugging along in our work for progress. 

Loeb also takes on the myth of the activist as a perfect hero who instantly created change. In the book, he writes that Rosa Parks actually worked as an activist for years. Her seat on the bus was not, as typically depicted, a spontaneous act. And Gandhi was painfully shy — so much so, that when he first became a lawyer, he stuttered and was so paralyzed by fear he couldn’t speak in court.

All of these stories remind me that results don’t come instantly, and even though I’m so passionate about creating positive change, I’m just starting out. I have faith that in a year, or five, or fifty, when I step back and look at the big picture, it’ll all make sense.

“Better to help ten real hurting people — or nine, or one, than to be overwhelmed and withdraw and do nothing.” – Sister Helen Prejean


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