Monday, October 10, 2011

Bleed the Good Out

I find that those whose hearts bleed for everything and everyone have no blood left to sacrifice when it counts. 

For example, the Peace Corps initiative: Live Like a Volunteer. Peace Corps has a lot of fantastic initiatives. These initiatives are problems that continue from one group of volunteers to the next. In Mongolia there’s an Alcohol Awareness Initiative to deal with the enormous problem of alcoholism in the country. Personally, one of my regrets in Mongolia is not finding a way to work with that initiative more. We also had an AIDS Awareness initiative that was useful, but I imagine much more useful in the Peace Corps countries that people typically associate with the organization, African and tropical countries. 

The Live Like a Volunteer initiative is unique with its more domestic focus. It encourages family and friends back home in the States to give up something (like using their fridge, taking showers, using a laundry machine) for a short while, maybe a week, maybe more. It is also a rather gross display of back-patting and largely pointless.

Friends and family back in the States have already given up something, they've given up easy access to, and even a certain amount of communication with, their loved one who is off trying to change the world. I am not trying to disparage the sacrifices made by volunteers, because those sacrifices are not negligible. Going without heat, or without air conditioning, without fast food, without electricity, the internet, yes those are big deals. But as volunteers, our rewards are plentiful as well. We get respect from people back home even if we don't always get it at site. We get a lot of our daily concerns taken care of (health insurance, rent paid for, etc). We choose to go overseas, to give luxury up and gain many tangible and intangible things in return. Our families and friends, however, give us up without really getting much of a say in it.
As usual, I'm also results-oriented, and when people give up something for a week of "Living Like a Volunteer," I want to know what is the result? Do they give up using air conditioning for a week and then someone who has never lived with A/C gets it for a week? No, nothing happens except that awareness is supposedly "raised." Our friends and families already were aware of how we live, we complain to them all about it! This is my effort at being productive instead of complaining (hey, I know I can use adjustment, I'm not perfect). Change "Live Like a Volunteer," to have better guidelines for what people should go without. Have your parents go without chicken for a month, and then donate chicken soup cans to shelters. Have your friends with big ass ... hearts, turn off the heating for a week and give the resulting savings to Country Funds (there's also another donation process to give to specific projects, but I apologize, I'm having difficulty finding the site).

So, go ahead, bleeding hearts, bleed the good out, but make your sacrifice mean something.

You only owe it to yourself.

- John


  1. Comment from R (who I think has figured out how to comment now. Message me on Facebook if you're having problems, or email me):

    For someone who is Buddhist (or likes to pretend to be), you don't have much regard for laboring to simplify our lives.

    It's good if you do it for 27 months. It can also be good if you do it for 1 week.

    "We burn the fat off our souls."

  2. Win for the Hemingway quote.

    But how does complicating your life transform into laboring for simplification? I believe in making your actions into a meditation, but I'm not against progress or for anti-modernism.

    I fully agree with you that something can be good even if it's done only for a week. But I see nothing good come out of doing something so you can pat yourself on your back and say "Now I know what it feels like to be a volunteer." They need to go further, or not go as far at all. In the middle lies only incompleteness and danger.

    This is from my favorite book of Hemingway's, to admit that I do have some limited amount of self-awareness: "His rage began to thin as he exaggerated more and more and spread his scorn and contempt so widely and unjustly that he could no longer believe in it himself."

    Also, "It was easier to live under a regime than fight it." I think that holds true for the reign of ideas as well.

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  4. Awesome quotes!

    Using your above examples of fridge, shower and laundry: curbing their use for a week would save roughly 20% of a weeks household electricity use (fridge); conserve between 105-175 gallons of water (shower); save between 1.4-2.8 kg of CO2 emissions (laundry).

    Not only do these people help the environment for a week, but they also realize how the other 4 billion people in the world live. And maybe, just maybe, they adopt some of these habits permanently.

  5. Sorry, I want to clarify that. I'm not arguing for a luddite lifestyle, nor do I mean to say that people should permanently rid themselves of fridges, laundry and showers (gross!). But just wanted to point out that their seemingly pointless "week as a PCV" has some large benefits.

  6. You're right, actually. There are benefits even from the small conveniences that are given up. I am willing to admit that I was hasty in saying or implying that the "Live Like a Volunteer" has no benefits.

    I will standby the statement though, that as it is, the initiative is a half-step where a whole-step would not be significantly more difficult do, yet would increase the benefits to a great degree.

    I also do think people should give up showers. Not that any looms need be destroyed, but simply that baths are underrated.

  7. I agree with questioning the pointlessness of many pseudo initiatives, really, easy ways to make you feel good about yourself. For example, the push to conserve energy on Earth Day by not taking a shower or keeping your lights off. A teacher at my school taught all day in the dark on Earth Day, and I'm not sure what was accomplished. How about we take our heads out of our asses and respect the Earth the other 364 days of the year as well? I get that doing things like keeping the lights off for a day aims to raise awareness, but I think it's unreasonable optimism at best. It's like brushing your teeth really well and flossing the day you go to the dentist, but not giving a shit the rest of the year. The same goes for the goddamn pink ribbons on everything. I have multiple cancer survivors in my family, as well as loved ones I've lost to it, so in no way am I disrespecting the fight to find a cure. However, I find unacceptable the mindset that buying a pink water bottle is sufficient to count as doing something. And more so, the same goes for 99% of the so-called "We are the 99%" sitting on their asses doing nothing productive. But you've already tackled that group for me :)