How-To Make Your Mom Proud Of You (Or Not)

09/03/2013 10:48 am ET Updated Oct 27, 2013

If you have parents, your social activism career just might, with any luck at all, turn out OK.

For some social sector activists, parents are hurdles to be pushed out of the way. The poem Journey for Justice repeats an time-worn generational story, "i struggle between tradition and the unknown."

For others, parents are on-going role models, exemplifying empathy, strength and community citizenship. Family is our first community. Family gestates and gels our understanding of who we are as individuals - and, even more vitally, who we want to be.

As Cafᅢᄅ Impact's social activists confirm, parents are unavoidable. The rest is up to you.

In my own case, one of my parents was extroverted and civic-minded, but driven by superficial ego rewards (community recognition, acknowledgment at organizational banquets, certificates of praise, etc.). The other was introverted and family-focused, but fundamentally decent, fair-minded and generous of spirit.

One was motivated by love, the other by suspicion. One fearlessly stepped into the public square, the other remained at home, insecure and risk averse.

The combination, along with mentoring teachers and an awesome first boss, jumpstarted my political activism and later my social change career. Judge the results for yourself.

In social science lingo, the family is a total emergent system - a mental frame around the social entrepreneur's self-portrait, self-esteem and self-actualization.

In a family, we watch the work ethic in action. We see that success in both life and social entrepreneurship is largely dependent on diligence, tenacity and the ability to improve over time. Talent matters, but hard work matters even more.

In a family, we notice that our happiness depends on the happiness of others. We witness the golden rule in action, learning to empathetically identify with others. The seeds of reward from community contribution and collaboration are planted.

In a family, we experience kindness. Mostly undervalued as an American workplace attribute and mistakenly overlooked during most social justice job interviews, kindness matters. Kindness begets kindness. Kindness reinforces selfhood and empowerment across the social change spectrum.

Acknowledge, respect and thank your parents (and teachers) for the moral compass embedded inside you (past tense). But now (present tense) and going forward (future tense) you are in charge of your social change life and career.