How do I do that, revisited | #11

“But, how do I do that?”

No, I am not resending an earlier email. It is just that I get asked the same question again and again. How do I build relationships with people who are different than I am? How do I find the humanity in others? How do I fight for the heart and soul of those who would oppress others?

So, being me, I decided I would try this again. Or, rather, being me, I decided I would not answer this again. Because the reality is, how doesn’t really matter. I mean, it does, but only in degrees. What really matters is the why.

Why am I in this work? Why do I care about the liberation of others? Why do I desire this better world? Why do this, rather than collect stamps or go sailing on the weekends or plant zinnias? Why, instead of all the other options available to me in this whole wide world, am I going to spend what time I have available fighting to better the circumstances of the oppressed and for the soul of the oppressor?

Why, indeed.

Because Nietzsche said that if we have a strong enough why we can endure any how.  Because you will get down, and you will have setbacks, and you will want to quit, and people will use you for their own ends, and you will feel like a fool at times. And if you are not absolutely sure of the reason you are in this work, if you are not committed, if you have the option of, in good conscience, throwing the whole thing out and just doing something else, you will.

And we need you to not do that.

And because, in the final analysis, it is the wrong question.

The answer to How is tactics. The answer to Why, however, gives you strategy. And you need a strategy. You need an overarching reason, an idée fixe, a magnificent obsession that drives you.

And because I have been doing this for a long time, I know what your next question is.

But how do I do that? How do I learn what my fixed idea is? Because right now, I am just a bundle of emotions and anxiety full of hand-wavy ideas about justice and equity. How do I come to know what I believe strongly enough to commit myself to it?  

I actually have an answer to this one. I will not say this is the only way, but it is a way, and it will only cost you $3. When I mentor college students, this is the method I use. They all hate it, but it has changed the course of multiple lives, ended college careers, and launched nonprofits.

Ready? Go to the corner drugstore and buy yourself an old-school composition book. Mine always looks like this one but it really doesn’t matter. I do recommend it not have removable pages, in order to keep you honest.

And then, every day for 90 days, sit down with your composition book and a cup of your beverage of choice and write at the top of the page the following:

Today, I believe…

And then write down what you believe. Maybe it is that hard work deserves a living wage. Maybe it is that ketchup has no place on a hotdog. Maybe it is a sentence, maybe it is a paragraph, maybe it is an essay. But every day for at least 90 days (but 180 is better), you write down what you believe that day.

Maybe what you believe one day is that you believe it is stupid to be doing this exercise. Maybe you contradict what you believed yesterday.  It doesn’t matter. Put it all down. We don’t edit, we just write. You could, of course, save the $3 and just use your computer, but I have found it is too easy to edit on the computer, and after all, aren’t you worth the $3?

And then, when you are done, let it sit a week. Two is better. Six would probably be better still, but then you get into delaying tactics. And when it is done marinating, you take it out, grab a highlighter and a cup of coffee, and you look for themes. And you will find them. Because during this time you will feel the whole range of human emotions. You will have days when you are happy, days when you are sad, when you despair when you are at the heights of optimism. The chief value in going longer than 90 days is to give yourself more time to feel more things.

And when you are done, and you have a copybook filled with emotions and beliefs and themes and yellow highlighter, you will know what you should do. Or at least, the area you should focus on. You will learn what makes you come alive.

And more than anything else, the world needs people who have come alive.