One of the forces constantly prompting me to be a better person is the ever-growing body of TED talks. I recently listened to a talk by Courtney Martin, which she delivered in D.C. in December. It’s ostensibly about feminism and what it means to her as a 30–year-old (putting her at the leading edge of my generation, the Millennials). But it’s really a synthesis of important wisdom she has acquired about social change.

The first wonderful argument Martin delivers is that while many describe our generation as apathetic, we’re actually overwhelmed. We were raised to have ambitions of saving the world, and we’ve discovered we don’t know how to begin.

So how do we begin? The most important thing we can do with our lives, Martin says, is to be a humanizing force in the systems we’re a part of. How do we sustain ourselves and avoid burning out? By functioning on two levels:

  1. “We really go after changing these broken systems of which we find ourselves a part.”
  2. “We root our self-esteem in the daily acts of trying to make one person’s day more kind, more just, et cetera.”

In many ways, she says, addressing our generation, life is about “acting in the face of overwhelm.”

What are the systems at work in Lancaster County where you can be a humanizing force, acting out of love and care even though the problems are overwhelming?

Listen to Courtney Martin’s talk

One thought on “‘Be a humanizing force’

  1. Thanks for posting this, Daniel, and for your thought-provoking question. Though I’m decidedly not of the Millenial generation (instead, Late Boomer), these reflections really resonated with me. Over the past several years, as part of the process of writing a book, I’ve steeped myself in the harsh realities of the American criminal justice system and have been completely overwhelmed by the complexity and seeming intractability of the problems found at every layer of that system. After my book was published and I spent 2 1/2 months traveling across the US talking with mostly self-selecting audiences where I was often “preaching to the choir”, I came home even more overwhelmed and dejected. My husband sat down with me and said, “Look, we won’t be able to change this whole system (Courtney Martin’s “Save the World”) – but what can we do for one person?” So, he and I have started visiting one incarcerated man who has been in prison for 24 years and had no one to visit him. It has been among the most productive, meaningful things we’ve ever done. Thank you, Daniel, and thank you, Courtney, for your insightful questions and your elegantly simple response to the “overwhelm.”

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