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Working for Social Change, Even When It's Complicated

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A notebook page filled with social good doodles.

What is “doing good”? It sounds self-explanatory enough, and surely we can all see examples of “good work” in our communities. But is there more to “doing good” than carrying out well-intentioned activities? And what does it mean to do good when doing good is complicated?

In a recent OnBeing article, writer, speaker, and entrepreneur Courtney E. Martin tackles these questions by highlighting the complexity of our work:

"We live in a time when there are unintended consequences for just about everything we do. You teach the man to fish, and realize that you’ve left out his wife and instructed him using a fishing line that is destructive to the coral reefs below."

This complexity isn’t new, of course. However, it gets challenging when you want to act on something and realize your actions may have caused more harm. You might find yourself asking, “Why bother?”

Martin’s suggestion to combat this feeling? Let your actions be guided by curiosity.

"The alternative is to let your actions be inspired — not by goodness but by curiosity. Be curious about where your food, your clothes, your stuff comes from. Learn more. Ask questions. Become a systems thinker — a far more edifying and interesting identity than a do-gooder...

In the face of a range of impure choices, you can still make the least harmful one and feel some sense of pride in your thoughtfulness. You can continually expand your moral imagination, even in the face of overwhelming choice."

Read the rest of her article here.

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by Victoria Crispo

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