I know all about the hating and the sneering. I’m a member of the why-bother generation myself. But why did I bother to come out here tonight? And why did you? I mean, it’s time. It begins with us. Not with politicians, the experts, or the teachers, but with us. With you, and with me. The ones who need it most. – Happy Harry Hardon, Pump Up the Volume
I was born in 1980. That makes me either a young Generation Xer, or an old Millenial. I used to identify as “Gen Y,” back when that was a thing, and I still kind of do. The above excerpt is why. Pump Up the Volume was a seminal movie for me, and it shaped my life in probably more ways than is directly comfortable.
There is, among people of my age range, a deep-set cynicism. Everybody knows that the world is broken, and nobody can see a solution. We complain about it on Facebook. But, at the same time, we talk about how goofy the older generations are. We mock the churches, we mock the social clubs who try to do at least some bit of good in our communities. We want to see big changes, but we don’t put in the work for little ones.
Sorry, fellow millenials. But you know it’s true.
There is a sense – and social media has become a large part of this sense – but there is a sense that complaining about something and doing something are the same thing. If you repost a meme about (insert issue of choice here), then you’re doing your part. You can be as strident as you want to, because reposting a meme has all of the illusion of being pro-active, with none of the actual investment.
And still we sneer at those who put in the work. We complain about homelessness, but we don’t volunteer at the shelter. We point out the problems with poverty, but we don’t work at the food bank. We complain about discrimination, but the only people we talk to about it are people who agree with us. We want to “raise awareness,” as though raising awareness and fixing the problem are the same thing.
Here’s a thing: it’s not.
So, I’ve been the chairman of the board of a local non-profit for a little over a year now. We provide housing and support services for homeless teenagers. It’s not “raising awareness,” it’s “actually putting a roof over someone’s head and food in their bowl.” There’s a difference, folks; that second one is a lot harder.
But today, I took a new step. One that, had you asked me about it five years ago, I would have shrugged off in a cynical haze.
Today, I was inducted as a member of the Skookum Rotary Club.
Wait. Hold that thought in your head for a second. That reaction you just had? The one where you asked yourself, “Frog? Rotary? Why? WTF? How in the world do those two things go together?” Hold on that thought for a second, because I am here to tell you this: that reaction is the entire problem with our generation.
Let’s talk about the reaction I would have had to that news if you’d asked me five years ago.
Five years ago, I viewed all such gatherings (Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, etc.) as futile endeavors. As places where people gathered to pat themselves on the back for helping without actually having to help people. I had that assumption because I had a different, more fundamental, more disturbing assumption: any attempt to render such assistance will ultimately fail in the face of the overwhelming entropy that is humanity.
Boom. There it is. Everything sucks, and doing small things on a local level isn’t going to change the fact that everything sucks. So forming these organizations that do small things on a local level is a waste of time. Because I could be using that time to post Facebook memes about the bigger issues on a national level.
Now that I type it, it seems silly. It was silly. But there you have it; the flawed logic that I contained, and that I believe is contained within a not-insubstantial number of you.
I’ve been going to the Skookum Rotary meetings for about a month and a half now, and I’ve discovered something: the people there are (1) by and large of an older generation than me, and (2) devoted to doing good in the world. They understand that they can’t do it by themselves, but they also understand that their contributions can help, with others, slightly edge the world in a positive direction.
In the time I’ve been going to the meetings, I’ve watched local students get scholarships. I’ve watched local schools get funding for programs their own budgets couldn’t cover. I’ve watched local non-profits get funds to help people. And I’ve watched the Rotarians working to make all of these things happen, without expecting praise for it in return. They don’t do it to be lauded by their peers. They don’t do it so that everyone on Facebook can hit a “like” button and assuage a fragile ego. They do it because they see this as the way they can make the world a better place.
No, the efforts of the Skookum Rotary Club are not, in and of themselves, going to completely change the world for the better. But the efforts these good, honest people are putting in are one grueling step towards that goal, and one that they’re willing to take. Instead of going onto a social media site and demanding massive change right now with no work, they do and expect the exact opposite. They go to their local club meeting and put in a massive amount of work for a small amount of change, because all change is good. All improvements are worthwhile. And actually moving the world in the correct direction is a long, slow process.
I am throwing my lot in with these old people who ignore the easy life of cynicism for the arduous path of optimism. I am signing up to throw my back behind the work that they do, because I’ve seen them do more actual good than anyone simply reposting Facebook memes. This isn’t an announcement that I’m going to stop posting on Facebook; I’m still a loudmouth know-it-all.
But irony was my shield. So long as I believed nothing good could be done, I didn’t have to trouble myself to do it. Now that I know that positive change is possible in small increments, I can’t ignore my own ability to contribute in some way, however small.
This isn’t a call for everyone to join Rotary. That’s the way I’m going, but everyone has their own path. This is a call for you to take a second, just this one second staring at your screen, and think to yourself about what you could be doing instead. What time could you contribute, and how, to make the world just a tiny bit better?
Because if all of us did that, I assure you that the tiny bits would add up a hell of a lot bigger than any of us could initially dare to dream.