So today, as half the student body was going home or was already at home for Thanksgiving break, I went to class. GPP 196. The major theme of the class was hope.
As you may already know, I would like to get involved in things that promote social justice, equality, and the alleviation of poverty. But, the process to all those things can be arduous and even painful. So, in the face of despair, how can you still have hope that things will change? And how could hope push you to do something?
Broadly, there are two different types of hope. One promotes complacency–saying to oneself that things are going to get better, and you just have to sit and wait until they do. “I hope that change happens”. It admits that problems are too big for us to change, so we wait around until someone else solves it for us.
The other kind of hope is bold and audacious. It is a hope that helps us believe that despite the despair, change can happen and it is up to us to do something about it. It pushes us to get involved, get organized, and participate in collective action.
Here’s a #GlobalPOV video that talks about hope and social change:
Towards the end of class, we talked about our “metric of success”, and this really got me thinking.
Socrates once said that, “the unexamined life if not worth living.”
Malcolm X said that that, “the examined life is painful.”
So, by reflexive property / logic, “the life worth living, the examined life, is painful.”
How do I feel about this? I’m not sure sure. I’m definitely the type of person that tries to avoid pain and stress as much as possible. But, I am trying to accept that once I overcome such pain, I realize that I have done something worthwhile.
In class, we were also asked to write out all the things in the world that we wanted to see changed, defying all physical, humanitarian, and scientific limits.
It looked a little like this:
So, my professor asked us how we can concretely work towards all the change we wish to see. As students in the “Global Poverty & Practice” minor, we all want to do be involved in things that alleviate poverty, address inequality, and promote social justice. But, how will we do those things?
And what is my metric of success?
My professor asked us that if at the end of semester, I received a C in his class, would I have thought I failed? My first reaction was yes. I believe that up to this point in this semester, I have worked hard and if I received a C, this means that I didn’t understand the course material well enough to get a better grade. Plus, getting a C could hurt my chances for future chances at grad school or fellowships, and getting a good grade is a goal in that sense. (and a C is not considered a fail!)
But, I realized that the way that I define my success is from external sources. Grades are definitely a major part of them. This makes sense because I still need to get good grades. But, in the work that I want to do, the results of “social change” are not always as clear. I’ve learned over and over that social change or the big things that I want to accomplish don’t happen overnight. If they did, people would be more involved. In fact, one of the reasons why social change doesn’t happen more often is that people get discouraged or despair when they don’t see change right away. It’s a cyclical process and then, we kind of just hope for the best.
But, I want to talk more on the individual level.
I think I want to do policy work when I get older, addressing income inequality and developing economies in specific. So if I am successful, I will definitely be dealing with the issues that I want to see changed. But, how will I know on an individual level if I am successful. What is my metric of success?
Honestly, I don’t think I can ever get away from the fact that I need some kind of external measure. Some of my success will come from a decent pay, hopefully. Some of my success will come from the approval from my family members. And the last bit will probably come from knowing that I’m making some positive contribution to the world (and tangibly seeing that change?).
I don’t know what that would concretely look like yet. There’s always an internal struggle between wanting to see results right away, but change usually comes slowly. [There’s an economic theory that explains this; it has something to do with discounting.]
What I do know is that I have to be able to find a balance. I read an article for class, and Monbiot referenced a quote from Benjamin Franklin:
“Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”
This resonated with me because I think in life, because I was raised by immigrant parents who literally gave up everything for my own good, I feel like I should be pursuing security. What’s wrong with having a steady job and having enough money to feed a family? Of course, nothing.
And typically, the most securest / highest paying jobs out there are corporate. But, Monbiot warns his audience that there is always that chance that we get lost in the corporate world and lose sight of the social change that we want to achieve. Also a reason why social change doesn’t happen that often. People are caught up chasing their own security that they don’t have time for anything else.
This is something I fear because security is definitely a priority for me. I was raised with the belief that you have to secure yourself first before you can worry about anyone else. This is not what Monbiot says, but this is something I can’t shake. I would really like some security in my life, and I think it is a part of how I define my success.
But, more often than now, I hope my metric of success will come from finding my life rewarding and worthwhile. I believe that my life will be rewarding if I choose to do something where I can make some meaningful impact (I am still unsure of the scale and I hope there I can see the impact no matter how big or small). I want to be engaged in the issues that I care about and the issues I wish to see changed in the world. And I believe that my life will be worthwhile if I choose opportunities that will take me out of my comfort zone and teach me new things (like my PE!). Even though it may be painful, the experience is worth it in the end.
So, what is my metric of success?
It’s all very abstract right now, but I am carving that out along with my future.
Over and out.