“I’m going to change your life!” No, you’re not.
“I empower people…” No, you don’t.
“I create shifts in people’s lives” Not at all, actually…
‘First Grade Boy Steals Penguin”
That’s what the comedian I’m listening to at an amateur hour said the headline was. “True story” he said,” swear on my mother’s grave”.
As it was told to me, it would seem that the little boy was on a trip to the zoo with his class. They were looking at the Penguin exhibit and the boy decided he just had to have one. So, when nobody was looking, he evacuated all of the superfluous contents of his backpack (because who needs math and history when you’ve got a freaking Penguin!?) put the bag on the ground and opened it up. And a penguin crawled out of its enclosure and into the bag.
The little boy zipped up the backpack and wore it around all day, all the way home on the bus. Imagine his Mom’s surprise when she walked in from the kitchen to see a live penguin on her coffee table, staring her precious angel-faced baby boy right in the eye.
Of course she was in shock so we can’t blame her that the first question out of her mouth requested the least useful piece of information under the circumstances: “What is that?”
As small children tend to do, the little boy cut through the confusion and uselessness of his mother’s question and stated the simple truth: “He likes me!”
Now that the penguin is safely back in the zoo (although if he chose a black hole and a first grader over his zoo accommodations I have some questions) all of that is a funny story. But then the comedian made a point that I’m making the point of this blog:
First grade boy did not steal a penguin. He didn’t scale a fence, swim a mote, and chase a penguin down in an epic struggle of first grader vs. flightless bird.
First grade boy created a NEW OPTION. He opened his backpack and the penguin ostensibly surveyed his surroundings, looked into the sincere face of a first grade boy and the backpack he was being offered and made a choice to try something different.
I think sometimes those of us who have good self-esteem and a healthy body image want other people to have that so badly that we push too hard – trying to change other people’s lives or viewpoints; trying to “empower” people almost by force. Or we can take ourselves too seriously and think that we are changing people’s lives – that we are empowering people – when the truth is that the only thing that we can ever do create a new option.
With our day to day living and interactions, our blogs, our work, our personal choices, we can show people a perspective that they might not have considered before, open a dialog, and give them a choice they didn’t realize they had. To me the core of activism is to live from a perspective that works for you and share that perspective with others authentically and without any obligation. They can take it or leave it – as long as they know that it’s an option, we’ve done our job. We can never change someone’s mind, but we may be able to expand it – with a new idea, a new perspective, a new option. If you are doing that, then while you’re not a life-changer or an empower-er (because that’ s impossible), you are an inspiration, and that is powerful.