Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tikkun Olam... or not

I have a lot of time to think these days and my thoughts have roamed across a variety of topics and questions. But one question keeps resurfacing this year and it strikes deep at my core:

How can I make the world a better place?

This question is a central part of my heritage as a Jew. Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew phrase with various interpretations. The one to which I ascribe is a call to action: that it is our duty as humans to make the world a better place for all its inhabitants.

While I have felt this responsibility was my life's purpose for as long as I can remember, I have yet to figure out the how of it. There are so many possible answers to this question. But each possible course of action dislodges a wave of other questions for me:

  • How do I make sure that my "helping" isn't actually making things worse?
  • How should I, as a middle-upper income white woman, behave so as not to perpetuate the fallacy of the white savior? Should I only intervene in white communities?
  • What is the long-term affect of helping a community for only a short amount of time?
  • Who should pick the beneficiaries from any intervention I might support, especially if resources are limited and some deserving individuals are destined to be excluded?
  • How should those decisions be made and what existing structures of oppression will be reinforced through this process?
  • When/where is it my place to spread my own ideas about social justice? Is there a place where I can appropriately assert my values or ideals?
  • Does it even matter if I contemplate these questions? Should I just act without regard to the unintended consequences of my actions?
  • Is it important that any charitable work I do be sustainable over time? If I can't continue with the work, how will I ensure its lasting significance?
  • What would it look like to work in partnership with local leaders in a place where I'm not fluent in the language or culture? Must I attain a certain level of fluency in a place before attempting to make a difference there?
  • How does one go about finding opportunities for public service while traveling?
  • How does one travel internationally without harming others or contributing to existing structures of oppression?

If you have answers or reflections on any of these questions, I'd love to hear them. Until then, I will continue to wrestle with these thoughts in hopes of reaching at least a temporary identification of next steps on my path to make the world a better place.


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