FSG 30: Burned out on Being Burned out

Last week was Free Spirit Gathering #30. I was sharing my deepest long-term hopes about how projects like Lovers Grove might eventually lead to an increase in compassion and help with the bigger problems. As I began to talk I became very animated and excited. One of my friends commented about how idealistic I seemed. She said she had been that idealistic once but had burned out.

I stopped. After a few moments I said that I'd been there. I'd been a cynic; I'd been frustrated with my inability to change anything. However I was burned out on that: I am burned out on being burned out.

Yeah, I've seen enough of the world to realize that the next president of the US isn't going to be the one who makes it all better. I've seen that even if I believe in a cause, a politician, an organization, the world isn't suddenly going to be different. There will be conflict. Corporate America isn't suddenly going to focus on the good of the world. Yes, it's easy to look at a certain kind of big difference and realize you won't be able to make it.

However, I've been paying attention to what's been going around me enough to notice some of the changes I can make. Many of them are in the computer world because that's where I've been working longest. I've seen how the big companies make decisions. I've been there at the right place and time and managed to make a difference in products many people use on a daily basis. It was a combination of native skill, a lot of work becoming good at what I do, caring about the issue, luck, and working with others. No, I've never started Google, radically changed the shape of the Internet, or anything like that. However, I've made some changes that really mattered to me.

It's the same with people. I remember one instance where I was really frustrated with someone. I wanted him to just go away, but if I said that I'd look like an asshole. Instead, I suggested that since they had concerns we clearly weren't understanding, he should come to our next meeting and work with us. I suspected it would amount to the same thing: I didn't think he was in a position to attend. I was wrong. He showed up. Having made the offer, I spent some long hours working to build understanding and friendship; so did he. Others were so impressed with his contributions the next day that they offered him a job, where he grew and managed to teach the world important tools about computer security. For a while, people hated it when we'd bring up these concepts. Now, without anyone even really being aware of whose work they are using, you see the concept all over the place. I helped someone grow and make their own difference.

It's happened a couple of other times. Someone wanted to solve an impossible problem. Rather than telling him that he couldn't do it, I outlined what a solution would need to do. To lots of peoples' surprise he solved the problem. That project helped give confidence for his first company, which lead to the next and so on.

I see the same trends in my Venus work. You can't tell when something will end up being a big deal to someone else, but sometimes it is. Those big deals add up. When conditions align, they change the world. I don't need to help all the politicians learn to value understanding and fight fear. If I help the right person, they may bring that viewpoint into a critical discussion and reshape what will come. Likely I'll never know. However I've seen it happen enough times already in my life that I know that we can make a difference. How can I not be idealistic and struggle for the world in which I'd choose to live?