I was just informed that I am one of five finalists in my region (the South) competing for a CLASSY Award in the category of Volunteer of the Year. I'm deeply honored and happy about this, but somewhere inside I'm hearing Medea's voice saying, "Girl, please."
It's not that I feel completely unworthy. I am volunteering a year of my time, my writing, and my photography as the Global Blogging Ambassador (a title I totally made up) for Heifer International, traveling to 12 countries in 12 months in 2012. It's a catchy concept and I totally made that up, too (25 years in advertising has to be good for something). But it can be hard to convince people that this is anything other than the travel opportunity of a lifetime, which of course, it definitely is.
However, any salesman with a far-flung territory can tell you that long-distance economy travel is about as glamorous as a sinus infection at 35,000 feet -- and I'm going to some of the poorest, most difficult-to-get-to places on the planet. (Bonus!) Nothing about writing is easy, either, and I spend hours and hours on my photos, trying to get them to tell the story so my words don't have to do all the heavy lifting.
My time in the field visiting Heifer projects, learning people's stories and trying to understand the causes and challenges of poverty around the world make this about the hardest work I've ever done (except for my last blog project). So in terms of effort, Heifer is absolutely getting the best I have to give... for free!
No, the issue for me isn't how many hours I'm volunteering in this project; it's whether blogging itself actually does anything. When I volunteer for Habitat and help put down a roof, I know I've done something. When I do a cleanup with Riverkeeper, I can see the pile of trash I've hauled out of the river. But with blogging, I'm just writing and even if I know I've done a good job, I can't see the effect. People assure me I'm making a difference but I wonder about that. In fact, I think the whole phrase is overused to the point of dullness: if everybody were making a difference, wouldn't things be a lot more... different?
At the end of the day, I am just writing and like all writing, it's mostly done for one's self. So I feel pretty selfish and not much like the Volunteer of the Year at all.
Awash in this kind of existential angst, I was delighted to read David DeSteno's article on "Compassion Made Easy" in last week's Sunday New York Times. His experimental studies have borne out the truth in the Dalai Lama's contention that "the experience of compassion toward a single individual does shape our actions toward others." What's more, he found that "the compassion we feel for others is not solely a function of what befalls them: if our minds draw an association between a victim and ourselves -- even a relatively trivial one -- the compassion we feel for his or her suffering is amplified greatly."
And that means I've got scientific proof that what I'm doing does count-- as my entire point in writing this blog is to increase people's association with (and compassion for) others in poverty and hunger around the world. You can find more information on how to vote here -- using CLASSY's weirdly unintuitive 5-step voting process. I appreciate it so much -- and so does Heifer.
You really are making a difference ( :