The way I spend my time shows whether I have a tight focus in my life or an expansive one.
- Do I spend most of my time on myself, best friends and family?
- Do I volunteer?
- Do I belong to groups?
- Do I publicly support causes?
- Do I make an impact at school, in the neighbourhood or in the community?
- Do I have a life that’s noticed at the city-wide, province-wide or country-wide level?
As a teen, I volunteered a lot and was quite civic-minded (or so I thought.) I assumed that as a grown-up I would always be doing community projects and fundraising and speaking out for causes. Well, the working world soon cured me of that. A regular work week seemed to leave me just enough time for a social life, but that’s all. I became informed about various causes, and had lively discussions about them at work, but didn’t give up my weekends for them 😦
In retrospect, I am more forgiving of myself. I was going through a lot of life changes, and my friends and I supported each other through a lot of tough times. The personal is political, they say. In our 20s, there was so much drama…schooling decisions, unemployment, new jobs, relocation, parents’ expectations, being broke, domestic violence, unplanned pregnancies, wanted pregnancies that didn’t happen, weddings, divorces, first mortgages, and all those life stages. Of course this is within my group of friends and I didn’t experience them all myself (just my share), but it took a lot of psychic energy to be there for each other!
I actually experienced a lull of about 3 years when my life was calm. I took up crafts rather than activism, and took on new responsibilities at work. After that I had a child, a good cure for a calm life if there ever was one! From then on, my “circle” became quite small. I became aware I was making a public decision, whether I acknowledged it or not: I was going to use my time and attention to raise a child, rather than do something in the public domain. I think that’s something all parents face: whether their contribution to society will be raising good future citizens, or moving in bigger circles.
I suppose I was always a little disappointed in myself for not being more of a community builder. But with a demanding job, I always felt the need to hold back and keep more of myself for myself, so I could function well at home and at work. Even more so when I became a single parent. I’m not trying to elicit pity – if anything, I had to make some hard decisions to “say no” to outside requests more often.
It turns out there is no such thing as an apolitical parent. You care about the quality of your child’s school. You care what food is offered at the daycare. You care about the level of health care you can afford. You care whether the kids are exposed to art, music and sports. All of a sudden you realize that maybe some of your child’s classmates have learning difficulties and find it hard to succeed at school. That some of them can’t afford the medicines they need. That some of them are bringing crap lunches to school or going hungry. That some kids are enrolled in activities 4 nights a week and others can’t pay admission for the class trip to the Aquarium and have to stay behind. Before you know it you are driving a car load of kids to the “toonie swim,” looking after someone else’s sick child on your day off, and fundraising for a new auditorium for your child’s school.
Along the way, I found I was modelling my values. If I didn’t show up for the daycare parents’ meeting, the staff knew and my child knew and it was a public decision. If I stood up for the national anthem at a hockey game and knew the words, I was modelling patriotism – publicly. These are tiny acts, but over a lifetime, they define us.
I only have two big public commitments. I belong to the local Unitarian church and I have taught kids’ classes there for my whole adult life. I would say I’m a Sunday School teacher, but as a humanist and a Unitarian, that would be an in-joke! However, it is the one community to which I fully belong. The other public commitment is my work. In the public library, I am constantly called on to speak up for literacy, education, free access to resources, and freedom of speech. And I do so proudly!
Unsurprisingly, I now find it much easier to take a stand on issues. I’m likely to have some personal experience that makes me care. I’ve seen the effects of changes in government at all levels, and what each party and each candidate has accomplished (or wrought!) I know real-life people who are affected by each change to law and policy and fee structure. I cheer when the local school board pays for more EPAs and school band trips and teen health centres.
Ultimately, I have created my own path. I’m never going to be an Occupier or chain myself to a redwood. I’m part of the quiet mob that reassures itself by saying, “I’m a good person; I recycle!” I give money to charities, I vote, I obey just laws. As I wrote recently, I take every opportunity to speak up against homophobia, transphobia and racism. We all have our crusades; they’re just not always Large Scale.
Where do you stand? Are you a joiner, a protester, or a silent witness?