“I’m using every ounce of my will, my intelligence, my heart and my soul.”
Can you say that when you wake up every day, and go to work?
If not, Alice Walker has some advice for you.
We are often distracted from effective direct action by the project of improving ourselves, of being good. Good in that sense can sometimes be very facile. A good cover, you know, “I’m doing good, so I don’t have to change very much.” But I think for most Americans, the change that’s required is huge.
Do you ever look at your life and think, “Well, this nonprofit work is kind of a drag, but at least I’m making a difference” When it comes to making your life and work more meaningful,
Does working at a nonprofit get you off the hook?
I used to work at a domestic violence shelter and I used to think that because I was doing good, by fundraising, I was beyond reproach, that I didn’t have to worry about being feminist enough, or anti-racist enough, or revolutionary enough. I used to think that I didn’t have to worry about my bosses at nonprofits, because, hey, we’re all on the same side here, right? Why would a boss at an anti-oppression organization be oppressive? Why would a boss at a social justice organization be unjust?
But like Alice Walker says, it’s a cover. “Being good” was a cover for what was really going on. Maybe I didn’t know where to put my energy. But I felt like I could hide in the structure of a nonprofit, and maybe change the world in some way.
Alice Walker continues, “People need to incorporate a bit more militancy. More awareness of what you’re up against, and confronting that with real clarity.”
Now that I’m outside of a nonprofit structure, I have gotten a lot more militant. And it has taken work.
None of it has been easy. I see now how working at those nonprofits was a way of surviving, but also keeping myself small, following orders, and assuming that if I followed orders, I would be taken care of. Assuming that my bosses would be good to me if I just worked hard. WRONG!
Just because we work at nonprofits doesn’t mean we do meaningful work. Just because we work in a movement doesn’t exempt our leaders from scrutiny. Just because we have a “job” to “work for change” doesn’t mean that we get off the hook of examining our own deeper motives.
“You have to go to the places that scare you so you can see: What do you really believe? Who are you really?” -Alice Walker
Alice Walker: You have to go to the places that scare you so that you can see: What do you really believe? Who are you really? Are you prepared to take this all the way to wherever the truth leads you and accept that you have to figure out different ways of confronting reality?
What scared me was starting this blog. The nonprofit world is so “nice.” But it’s a fake nice. It’s a nice that says, “We’re all on the same side here” when we’re not. Before I started writing this blog, I was afraid to see who I really was. This blog has made me confront my need for the truth.
It has made me ask these questions about my deeper motives:
- If I believed that speaking the truth was more important than anything else, could I follow that all the way to the end?
- Could I give up the potential of finding another job in the sector, ever again, if I was honest about the sector?
- Could I confront the reality, and make other people aware of it?
- Would people like Jeff Brooks get mad? Is the Dalai Lama Buddhist?
Alice Walker: If you want to have a life that is worth living, a life that expresses your deepest feelings and emotions, and cares and dreams, you have to fight for it. You have to go wherever you need to go, and you have to be wherever you need to be, and place yourself there against the forces that would distort you and destroy you. (All quotes from Valerie Schloredt interview with Alice Walker for Yes Magazine, Fall 2012, Pg 14-15)
My life expresses my deepest feelings and emotions. I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not. I speak my mind and I’ve fought for this right. I’m happy with where I am now, and of course, always looking for the next challenge!
How about you?
Step off the cliff with me.
Is there a relationship or a friendship that no longer works for you?
Is your job not going anywhere?
Confront someone at work about how they’ve been acting.
Did someone tell you you’re on thin ice, but you forgot to ask, “Can you give me examples of what’s not measuring up?”
Confront yourself inside, and look at what you don’t want to look at.
Be Wild. Speak Your Truth.
More posts on our motivation to work at nonprofits