“Whenever anybody tells me they want to write a book in order to help other people, I always think, Oh, please don’t. Please don’t try to help me.”
- From Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Ouch, that hurts. Here’s what I thought as I was reading it.
The motivation to create something and write something to “make the world better place” doesn’t come from arrogance of “I’m so awesome that whatever i create WILL make the world better place”. It comes from a sincere desire to contribute. Because there is a lot of suffering happening. There is so much systemic injustice that every one of us should do something about. I do believe we need to have more people giving a damn and trying to do something to make the world a better place (their own ways that suit them, that fulfill them). Apathy is the enemy.
I understand though where the author is coming from and what she means by enjoyment. She says “I would so much rather you wrote a book in order to entertain yourself than to help me.” Whatever we do to make the world a better place should be something enjoyable to us. We should enjoy it; otherwise, it is a sacrifice. When we love what we do, people around us can feel the passion and enjoyment. That’s contagious. That’s when we are powerful. That’s when we can make meaningful impact.
I was out on the street with bunch of people protesting when I was 18 years old. I grew up in Korea. My life before university was all about getting into one of the top universities. And that is the only mission for most kids and parents. I felt like my life was going to be over if I had failed at that mission. People around me including teachers, family members, friends, and mass media (yes, let’s not forget that one) actually said it. After I started university, I met an entirely different universe. The freedom from the pressure I was under my entire life (as far as I remembered)… It was so sweet that I wanted to do everything I felt like doing. Partying. Drinking. Hanging out with friends (even this, I hadn’t got to do much prior to university days). And, protesting. Student activism was one of the powerful forces that brought democracy to Korea back in the 80’s. As I’m writing this, I’m reminded once again how fast my country has changed. From the painful and horrifying history of Japan’s invasion early 1900’s and Korean War in the 50’s (both of which destroyed the country to almost nothing) to dictatorship in the 60’s and 70’s to democracy and rebuilding in the 80’s and 90’s to the flourishing country as it is now. What a ride it has had. The resilience and perseverance of the country and the people… I admire it and respect it so much. Born and raised in these values, they are a big part of who I am.
So, there is a reason why I started talking about my experience as a student activist in this particular blog. It felt so right and good to be out there with other protesters fighting for justice. Until it wasn’t.
Among many other student groups that were introduced (you know, when you first start your undergraduate program, or a master’s for that matter, a lot of student groups present themselves to recruit students), I was hooked by a group whose mission was to deliver messages around social (in)justice in the form of dance and movement. I learned quickly that I wanted to take part in student activism and with my love of music and dance, that specific group seemed like a perfect fit. I was proud to be in it and served it as a leader in the second year. With members of the group and other fellow students from the university, I went out to the street to share our messages. There should be more people voicing what matters to people than few top media dominating the messages consumed by the public, I thought. Social media and online media weren’t yet popular back in the early 2000’s. The messages majority of people consumed were controlled by few top media companies. I thought I was on a mission to be out there and be as loud as possible so many more people can hear what they don’t hear from the major news outlets and newspapers. It was fun. It felt good. For a while. Then, my intuition started telling me this wasn’t what I wanted to do long-term. I wanted to apply the learnings from it and the rage, hope, and passion from the experience to my life. I wanted to continue contributing to the society in large but in different ways. As this thought grew, being out on the street felt more like work and sacrifice than something I enjoy and am proud of.
Our human life is so short. And so precious. I’d absolutely say “yes!” to spending every breathing moment on what matters to me, what I enjoy. With one caveat - As long as I continue to try so damn hard to find ways to add value to the community and society I’m part of. I don’t want to spend my precious life just for me, just on what I enjoy doing. I am part of the ecosystem. I’m benefited by it and harmed by it. I have influence over it and impact on it whether I like it or not. It just makes sense to me that I do give a damn about it and actively try to contribute to make it better.
Book recommendation from this post:
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert