I recently had coffee with two women friends. They are smart, capable women. They have quality degrees and impressive work experience. For the last several years, they've been focused on taking care of their families. Their spouses make enough income that they can afford to do that.
For the first time in my life, I looked at these women and thought, I have a problem with this. I felt upset and frustrated that women so full of love, so intelligent and ethical and affluent--in other words, women with so much power to do good--were having an impact primarily on their families, and not on a larger sphere. Not in 1950, but in 2010. While Wall Street is robbing us and our government is growing more and more controlled by corporate interests. While health care and schools are falling apart. While so much of the world is burning in violence, sickness and poverty.
Jen Louden, the bestselling author on self-care for women, has recently shifted the focus of her work to saving the world, and inspiring her readers to join with her in that work. In a blog post last month she wrote, "For a long time, I've been part of a sub-culture that believes if you raise your consciousness and do good stuff like buy quinoa in bulk and shine light to others during hard times, that will be enough to change the world. I say that's crucial, that's glorious, and that's not enough."
Jen's right, and I would add: "I've been part of a sub-culture that says, if you as a woman spend your time raising healthy, ethical children, keeping your spouse sane and contributing a little to local causes that impact your family, you've done enough to change the world."
It's not enough.
One year ago, the Dalai Lama said in a lecture, "The world will be saved by the Western woman."
We in the West we have the financial resources, political power, education and access to technology that is needed to relieve the tremendous suffering in the world. An who in the West is going to do that work? We women have the hearts, the empathy and the collaborative capacity to do it. We also have the talent, the wisdom and the brilliance needed -- though we often doubt it.
It's no wonder it's hard for women to see ourselves that way. Most women aren't raised with a narrative about loving or saving or changing the world. We're socialized with a narrative about loving the smaller circle of our families. Our lineage is about operating in the personal realm, while the men take care of the political, civic, global.
But women are by nature humanitarians. We are by nature activists, because we have a natural outrage and heartbreak about the pain of others. The next step for women is to let that humanitarianism and activism be unleashed. To let it be, unthwarted and uncensored.
It gets stopped, thwarted, by a little story in our heads that says, "but who am I to...?" or "But this is just how the world is" (because someone told you that once, right?) or "I'm not ready/expert enough/educated enough to ... start the organization/share the idea/lead the charge."
But our instincts are right: the status quo of the world is insane. Six million children dying of hunger each year? Insane. Child trafficking and slavery around the world? Insane. People allowed to make wars out of ego wounds that we know an emotional intelligence 101 workshop would solve? Exploiting the earth in a rapacious pursuit of not only profit but increasing growth in profits? Your instinct is right; it's insane.
Western women, it's time to step up, beyond our families and local communities, to the work of saving the world. The love we have for our children? The deep commitment to fighting for them, being there for them? It's time for us to be there for the children of the world in that way.
Let's do it through our work, our volunteering, our philanthropy--whatever works in each of our complicated lives. But let's dedicate ourselves, in a serious way, to the places in this world where the suffering is most extreme, to the wounds that most need healing. If nothing else, do it because you want to create a better world for your children. Do it because there is a person somewhere in the world who wants to feed her family, to sleep safely, to be free. That someone is without the access to a computer that you have, without the dollar to give that you possess, without the political voice you've been blessed with. Do it because you could have been born as her.