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Does this warm your heart?

July 2, 2010

I can’t help acting when I see something is wrong, or could be done better.

I’ve firmly come to believe that some people are just genetically wired that way. That’s why we can’t help becoming activists – we are genetically programmed such that we just cannot stop and do nothing when we see something is wrong.

But it is hard to live with, when you feel compelled to act on everything you see that could be better. Partly because it distracts you from other things that also should matter in your life (like earning an income, or personal relationships). And partly because it is frustrating when you hit roadblocks, and can’t influence or exact the changes you see are needed…

I’ve had a really tough time lately. I’m in a bit of a love-hate relationship with my town, Tofino. You’d think a tiny little community on the idyllic surf washed west coast of Vancouver Island would be paradise to live in, wouldn’t you? To visit maybe. But not to live in.

I feel like I’ve been battling to “help” my community – to stand up for residents’ rights, like having affordable housing, or not having to pay more for water than our for-profit businesses pay. And, for the last three and a half years, I have been using my earth sciences background (PhD in Structural Geology) to try to help our community come up with an emergency plan for the coming earthquake/tsunami, that is better than the current one – which actually puts people’s lives in greater danger than if they just ignored instructions. (All of these battles are chronicled on the Tofino Residents blog, which I started but am pretty ready to give up on).

So I’ve been feeling really down: wondering why, when I take the time to volunteer my expertise for the community, it must be a battle. Why I feel compelled to fight the battle, in spite of the opposition. Why there even is opposition and antagonism to simply getting a plan that helps my friends, my community…

It’s not only Tofino. I feel really down about the world. About global warming, about right-wing journalists who are not even scientists but who do their best to bamboozle the public into believing there is even any legitimate debate about human-caused climate change, about the oil spill. I left my high-paying job in the mining industry (yup, that’s right! that’s were I used to earn big bucks!) ten years ago, to earn a pittance as a writer/photographer (and nothing as an activist) in order to try to right some of the wrongs on our planet.

But lately, I’ve been feeling really negative about it all. Sure, the difference I make – be that on Tofino’s tsunami plan or on global environmental issues – is ultimately positive. But it is so negligible on the scale of things. I don’t feel like I am making any real difference.

This week, though, when I was feeling my lowest, I stepped out my front door – and there on my doorstep was a big heart drawn in chalk on the pavement. I knew right away who had drawn it – a little 5 year old girl who lives two doors down. The week before, I had helped her learn to draw a heart with chalk by herself, as I watched her sister learn to ride her bike without training wheels all by herself.

I mostly ride my own bike, rather than drive, so I have got to know the six kids here on my little townhouse driveway . They’re all between 5 and 7 years old. (They talk to me, because they don’t have to flee off the driveway for me and my bike, like they do when a car comes in). I always make time for them, even when I am busy. The last few months, they have been knocking on my door, asking me to “come out and play” with them. I nearly always do, no matter how busy I am – even if only for a few moments.

In my utterly crappy mood, that chalk heart on my doorstep the other day just warmed my jaded and cynical heart.

Maybe I am setting my goals too high, trying to change things that are just too unchangeable. But that chalk heart made me realize that I am making a difference in this world – at least on the scale of those kids’ lives.

And so they make a difference in mine.

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