INSPIRATION HQ: Deanna Zandt on Joan of Arc, Tikkun Olam, and the Butterfly that Causes a Tsunami (Prompt 8 #swinspires)

This is the eighth prompt for #swinspires, the Gift of Inspiration campaign hosted by She Writes. Between December 13 and 24, ten She Writers who inspire *us* will share a writing prompt. (For previous prompts, click here.)

Author: Deanna Zandt, Share This! How YOU Will Change the World with Social Networking

Prompt: What inspires change the world?

A sense of fairness and justice has always been intricately woven throughout my life. It's only been in my recent adult life that I've understood that being born an hyperempathetic person--what we used to call "sensitive" and "thin-skinned," back in the day--makes it nearly impossible for me to stomach injustice. So, in many ways, as much as it exhausts me sometimes, I don't really have a choice.

In different stages of my life, my understanding of changing the world has shifted and evolved. When I was first becoming politically aware in my late teens, it meant a lot of rebellion and anger. I had a Joan-of-Arc-like fury that knew no solid outlet, and eventually that became too painful to manage. The world wasn't changing fast enough for my liking, and I wasn't sure how to be in a world that didn't change.

One of the difficult parts of doing world-changing work is the expectation of martyrdom that comes with it. We work till we drop because the world won't stop for us. We work for little money because the benefit of knowing that our work means more should be enough. If you read those lines, you see how ridiculous it sounds. But it's there, in progressive activism, a foundation of left-wing culture. And it's tragically ruining any kind of real movement-building. (But that's another story.) 

The thread of sanity that I've found most helpful was actually the Jewish concept of tikkun olam. The Wikipedia definition is a little different than what I'd had told to me, which was that, early on, the universe had shattered into a bazillion little pieces, and it's up to each of us to take one little tiny shard and put it back together.

No one can put the whole universe back together.

At first that disclaimer felt like a cop-out, but it's since grown on me. I see shards all the time, and I allow myself to pick and choose which ones will be assigned to me. And when I feel myself burning out, I realize that my work on that shard is done for now. I'll come back to it later--or not at all.

Most importantly, I've learned to look for world-changing work that has some sort of feedback loop--too often, we feel like our efforts disappear into the ether, and we don't know what good we've done. The strongest example I have of this in my own life is probably one of the smallest examples--one that I think illustrates how tikkun olam plays out in my life: my dog, Izzy.

The short version of the Izzy story is that she was rescued from a puppy-mill in southern Texas two and half years ago. She was completely unsocialized: terrified of humans, and completely afraid of anything new. We worked together constantly, and slowly the layers of fear began to peel away. I'd see tiny little improvements--like when the ice machine in the freezer stopped scaring the bejeezus out of her, or when she first picked up a toy. Then it was bigger things, like when she got into my dad's lap the first time, or when she played with my best friend's dog, Kima. My heart would burst, and I'd feel my own little layer of angst about the world peel away. If this creature could transcend the horrors of the world, wake up every day and do the happy dance, "OMG, we're alive again! We did it!"... then why can't I?

We often think that changing the world has to consume us--but as I wrote in my book, the little ways in which we contribute to the world can be the butterfly that causes a tsunami. With care, nurturing and determination, we're moving mountains. I'm still learning, though. Are you? What are the small acts that you commit every day to change the world? How do you recharge your batteries or otherwise stay sane? If you could change just one thing about the world, what would it be?


Post your response on comments or in a post here at your SW blog and tag it #swinspires.  We may feature you!


Deanna Zandt is a media technologist and the author of Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking (Berrett-Koehler, June 2010). She is a consultant to key progressive media organizations includingAlterNet and Jim Hightower’s Hightower Lowdown, and is a Research Fellow at the Center for Social Media at American University. Zandt specializes in social media, is a leading expert in women and technology, and is a frequent guest on CNN International, BBC Radio, Fox News and more.


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Comment by Melissa Rawlins on December 23, 2010 at 2:03pm

I so agree that " the little ways in which we contribute to the world can be the butterfly that causes a tsunami "!!!!  Isn't it neat when ideas are in the air and we're sharing them!?  Just last week, Dec. 14 to be exact, I had one of those momentary inspirations that was really so much what you are saying.  It turned into the following paradigm shift: 


Yah's Way is the Way to Peace. The Scriptures hold the blueprint to the perfectly operating Kingdom of Peace. Just like in any ecology system, when one thing gets polluted / perverted / changed / substituted then the whole thing is affected and operates less efficiently. This planet (see the effects of industrial pollution) or a car (can you imagine if somehow some wires in the engine got crossed!) or a family (one person refuses to be responsible!) or an individual (I substitute wrath or anger for gentleness or humility).   When I saw it that way, I suddenly saw that keeping Torah, guarding Yeshua in me, yielding to the Spirit, carrying myself as a vessel of honor, displaying the fruits of the spirit, all of them, all of the time was not about "how Yah will judge me" nor "spiritual warfare" nor "whether I'll be accounted worthy of inheriting the Kingdom" nor even about "pleasing others" -- but it is all about doing my part to keep the Peace on Earth right now! It's the least I can do! It's my reasonable duty!  It's a joy to do my part! 
YeeHah! Changing the world, one righteous decision at a time! 
--Melissa Rawlins 


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