When Does Social Change Work Become a “Calling”?

My friend Kathleen Gage posted a quote from Albert Schweitzer about people sometimes reacting with hostility or obstruction to your attempts to improve the world. And then she said.

So if you are doing good for praise and accolades, you are doing it for the wrong reasons and it is no longer a good deed. It is an act of manipulation.
Do good because you are called to do good and for no other reason.

I’m going to gently disagree. I agree with the first two statements. But I disagree about “for no other reason.” I’m guessing that really what we have is different definitions of the concept of a calling—that mine is a lot stricter than hers. And that’s because, a few times in my life, I’ve experienced a genuine calling: a feeling that I was put into this place at this time to do something very specific—and that I had to do it.

We do good for lots of other reasons than because we are called to: to show your children what is possible. To make conditions better for others. To improve the lot of a group facing oppression that you don’t belong to–or that you do. To right an immediate wrong. Not all of these rise to the level of a calling. But all of them (and far too many more to list). I became an activist at age 12 and remain one. Five times, I have felt that calling—to:

1. Do what I could to stop the Vietnam war
2. Move the country away from a reliance on nuclear power (maybe the worst technology ever invented)
3. Protest publicly when the US bombed Libya (and I was the *only* protester on the first day, but by a few days later, there was a whole group of us out in front of the courthouse)

4. Save the mountain two miles from my house (with a massive outpouring of community support, won that one in just 13 months!)

View of the Mount Holyoke Range, showing the land saved by Save the Mountain in 2000.

View of the Mount Holyoke Range, showing the land saved by Save the Mountain in 2000.

5. My current mission of showing the business community how to turn hunger and poverty into sufficiency, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance—not through guilt and shame, but through enlightened self-interest
Yet these are only the tiniest fraction of thousands of actions I’ve taken for social change. The rest were not a “calling” but simply the right thing to do. They were not done for self-aggrandizement. If that had been my goal, I would have taken far faster and easier paths (like the Internet millionaire meme). Some of them were tiny and easy, like signing a petition. Others consumed years of my life, like the time I spent building what we now think of as the LGBTQ movement or my involvement in changing the politics of the city I lived in for 17 years, and the small town where I’ve lived for the past 18. Most were somewhere between, like serving on committees for grassroots groups or local governments.
That said, I gleefully share that my current calling is the most exciting and meaningful work I’ve ever taken on.
When have you felt a calling? What was it for and what was the result?

Green/social change business profitability expert Shel Horowitz shows businesses how to turn poverty into sufficiency, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance--??while making a good profit. An international speaker and bestselling, award-winning author, his 10th book is Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World.

Posted in Activism, Environment, People Helping People, Psychology, Shel's Personal Life, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , ,

In Archive