Vision and Action

There is a balance between action and reflection that needs to be addressed as we think about our “giving back” to our community. People share with me on a regular basis that they have a need to be connected to the community and that they want to “make a difference.” I always affirm and appreciate this spirit of generousity, this compassionate way of living, this desire to give to others with the same spirit we receive kindness from others. Often when people come to this conclusion they enter it from either of the two poles of “difference making”, namely the imagining or the work itself.

The folks who lean to imagining love to study, love to dream, they think big and picture a grand project or program where their own piece of the work is significant and rewarding. Two challenges emerge from such an approach, 1) these folks are disappointed the projects they visit are not “big enough” and that their piece of the work is not “important enough” to meet the high bar of their vision. And 2) they spend so much time on the researching, on the search for the “big project” that getting to the action remains somewhat elusive.

And then there are the action people, the “workers”, those who like to get their hands dirty, roll up their sleeves and get to it. The action folks want to get to work, and all they want to know is where to go, what to do, whom to ask. These folks find the process of looking for the meaningful volunteering experience tiring and beside the point, they just want to do the work.

But “workers” run into challenges when they jump too fast, join the first group that asks them to be a volunteer and when the work is too little and too confusing and too unfamiliar they get frustrated. There is something missing when we fail to adequately plan for work that will be meaningful to us.

When I think of meaningful volunteer work I think of this song, the lyrics speak of vision and action, of dreaming and getting your hands dirty. Whenever I need inspiration to know what to do, how to do it and where to turn I play this song on my iPod. I hope it works for you too.

Hammer and a Nail by the Indigo Girls

Clearing webs from the hovel

A blistered hand on the handle of a shovel

I've been digging too deep

I always do

I see my face on the surface

I look a lot like narcissus

A dark abyss of an emptiness

Standing on the edge of a drowning blue

I look behind my ears for the green

And even my sweat smells clean

Glare off the white hurts my eyes

I gotta get out of bed

Get a hammer and a nail

Learn how to use my hands

Not just my head

I think myself in a jail

Now i know a refuge never grows

From a chin in a hand

And a thoughtful pose

Gotta tend the earth

If you want a rose

I had a lot of good intentions

Sit around for fifty years

And then collect a pension

Started seeing the road to hell

And just where it starts

But my life is more than a vision

The sweetest part is acting

After making a decision

Started seeing the whole

As a sum of its parts

And i look behind my ears for the green

And even my sweat smells clean

Glare off the white hurts my eyes

Gotta get out of bed

Get a hammer and a nail

Learn how to use my hands

Not just my head

I think myself in a jail

Now i know a refuge never grows

From a chin in a hand

And a thoughtful pose

Gotta tend the earth

If you want a rose

My life is part of the global life

I'd found myself becoming more immobile

When i'd think a little girl in the world

Can't do anything

A distant nation my community

And a street person my responsibility

If i have a care in the world

I have a gift to bring

I look behind my ears for the green

Even my sweat smells clean

Glare off the white hurts my eyes

I gotta get out of bed

Get a hammer and a nail

Learn how to use my hands

Not just my head

I think myself in a jail

Now i know a refuge never grows

From a chin in a hand

And a thoughtful pose

Gotta tend the earth

If you want a rose