Community engagement can be especially difficult for people with busy schedules. A few folks in YOBA have articulated the challenge of participating in volunteerism or activism, while trying to hold down a job and raise families. My work and family situation affords me the flexibility to dedicate time after work to other activities, but this is not the case for everyone. This being the case, It’s worth thinking about beneficial action, not only as something that we do outside of our daily commitments, but as something we bring to them.
I was thinking about this last weekend when I was out on a hike with several undergraduate students who I work with at IU. I have come to engage my students in the last year in ways that I had not in the pre-pandemic environment. After COVID hit and we were all bunkered in our bedrooms, people’s anxieties and exhaustion became ever more salient. In response to this, our unit on campus has been very intentional about bringing sensibility and a sense of humor to all of our interactions. This was particularly noticeable last semester as we were managing the voter outreach initiatives for the University. It seemed exceptionally important to avoid the pitfalls of a fast-paced environment where relationships are leveraged to optimize the work and each interaction is merely transactional.
I have had the opportunity to organize outdoor activities with students as well as colleagues. Somehow my students seemed comforted by the knowledge that their instructors and advisors are also struggling under the weight of the pandemic and are equally eager to connect. While we have all been working under challenging conditions, it has been heartening to foster a culture in which we can bring our whole selves to our professional and academic experiences. I hope that this dynamic will outlive the pandemic.
I’ve also learned to be more attuned to pressure on my colleagues who struggle to arrange childcare and schooling while logging on to zoom meetings and writing grant applications. When feasible, I try to absorb some of their tasks and lighten the pressures they face in the day job. I’ve come to see flexibility in my personal life as an offering I can bring to my professional world.
I think it is helpful to conceive of beneficial action in a similar manner even when we do have the opportunity to engage in activism or community service. We may want to affect change in a way that improves the quality of people’s lives, but we also want to look around at the people we are working with as we pursue these goals. Sometimes the most profound impact we have in our community service might be in affecting the lives of the people we interact with in our activities. As an added benefit, it can make your coalition more effective in achieving its goals (Anyone who has been part of community organizations in the past has seen one good cause after another collapse under the weight of inflated egos and power plays).
I would love to hear from others. How do you practice beneficial action in your work/family commitments?
Oh and a shameless plug: Anyone who wants to support some of my beneficial action endeavors, I invite you to contribute to my fundraising page for Beacon. I am participating in the solidarity sleepout to raise funds for the year round homeless shelter in Bloomington. My page is linked here: https://givebutter.com/sleepout2021/team-frabalak/markfraley
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