The activist’s dilemma, pt. 2

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second column in a three-part series exploring poverty, activism, and philanthropy. The views expressed are those of the writer.

Part II: A Swinging Pendulum

Eventually, one may get to a point in life where you get your proverbial head out of your derriere and start to see more beyond yourself. (“The eyes of the blind shall be opened”…?) And then there’s a kind of realization that the wrongs you see start to foster a desire to do what you can, to use what you’ve been given.

But here’s the catch: sometimes you see too much. The more you look, the more you see, and at some point become overwhelmed. The crux of the matter is the true accounting for what you’ve been given. This is the difference between trying to help, and a pessimism that zaps all your motivation to make any effort whatsoever. A blindness to one’s gifts is the great stumbling block to experiencing the kind of compassion that leads to meaningful action.

The key to overcoming this stumbling block is greater awareness of your blessings and your obligation to share them. The bridge is gratitude. Gratitude is the true foundation of our ongoing willingness to give; and without giving, those in need will never be able to give back: this is the goal and the great circle of life: finding ways to help them give back. Gratitude helps us to overcome our natural human self-absorption and apply ourselves to needs all around us that should not be ignored. Giving of our time is harder than giving money. But how did it become “our” time if it’s all a gift, anyway? Who knows when we will be called home? Money is indispensable, but personal time also builds understanding and meaningful relationships.

The pendulum swings the other way, too. Just as pessimism and ingratitude are stumbling blocks to a compassion that leads to sustained deeds of service, the other reaction to social or economic injustice can be to try to do too much or go about it in a foolish way. Somehow we are tempted to think grandiosely “…gonna change the world,” “do it my way,” (I never really liked that Sinatra song); achievement by sheer willpower. Well, now there’s another human weakness, this desire to fix things in a God-like manner. It ignores our mortal limitations, the importance of building dialog and consensus, the imperative to seek divine guidance, the virtue of a steadfast faith that leads to actions speaking louder than words. Perhaps many well-meaning people fall into this kind of maverick way to try and make a difference.

Mother Teresa said, “We cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.” Jesus said, “Take the plank out of your own eye and then you can see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” These exhortations should inspire us all to courageously wade into the fray, into the messy world to truly make a difference in ways we cannot even imagine and likely will not see. It begins by just showing up and opening our minds to greater understanding.

Caroline McColloch

Contributing Columnist


Caroline McColloch is a freelance writer, farmer and local foods advocate. She can be reached at (937) 773-0663 or