Friday, August 22, 2014

Giving is Selfish (And I recommend it)

In the wake of the ALS challenge, there has been much discussion on the effectiveness of such a campaign. Some call it Slacktivism, others are just annoyed that the videos are filling their Facebook Newsfeeds, displacing important cat memes (*raises hand sheepishly*), others even argue that it's just self-promotion.

And honestly, I myself have had reservations about the challenge. First -- the whole water thing was originally meant as a punishment for not giving but somehow it turned into what everyone did in addition to giving (which kind of makes giving miserable, which kind of seems like the wrong message to send if you are trying to make people want to give to charities...)  But seriously, I get the idea. But at this point I think it's gone on so long that we've passed the point of Raising Awareness and are solidly moving into the "If I see one more video I will vow NOT to give to charity until they stop" territory.

But you can't say that it hasn't raised money and awareness. I didn't know what ALS stood for before this! (and since my friend accidentally said she was donating to "ASL," maybe even the American Sign Language organization is getting money out of this deal too!)

Have the videos made me pick this up as a new pet cause? No. But maybe for some people, it did.

(and as a bonus, the world was also given the gift of these gems. *giggle*)

And there's a behavioral science lesson that teaches that the act of making some gesture -- like signing a petition - actually changes our self-perception and we begin to see ourselves as someone who does things. Which in turn, makes you take a bigger action the next time. That's why people still use petitions. The piece of paper itself likely does absolutely nothing, but they've pulled a Jedi mind trick on you so that when they come back in a month or so and ask you to join a protest or donate money, you are more likely to do so. Because you signed a paper. That makes you someone who joins causes. Someone who takes action. So if you ignore a cause now, you're going against who you are as a person.

Sneaky, right?

But brilliant. So who knows, maybe many of the people who made these videos now subconsciously see themselves as someone who does things, which may spur them on to other charitable acts in the future.

But isn't it also inherently self-promotional to post a video of yourself giving to charity?

And self-promotion aside, you also get to feel good after you support a cause - which makes giving kind of selfish, right?
There’s a Friends episode where Phoebe tries to prove to Joey that there are purely selfless acts in the world, but she fails. She goes as far as donating money to PBS, which she hates (because the Sesame Street characters never wrote her a letter, so completely understandable) and feels like she has finally done something completely unselfish because she got nothing in return -- until she realizes how happy giving made her. 
So yeah, it would seem we always get something in return. You get to  feel good (and with the ALS challenge, you also get recognition, whether you wanted it or not.)

Should those inherently selfish incentives keep you from supporting charities?

Of course not.

By posting things about your support, you may really raise awareness and spur someone else to get involved. And yes, you will always get something out of giving: I think that’s God’s incentive for us to treat each other well – we get to feel happy afterwards.

So I guess my point is: don't shy away from raising awareness for causes just because you accidentally get recognition in the process. And don't feel like charity has to be miserable! You will always get something in return, that's just part of the deal.

Recently, I was told by one of my employers to record my hours of volunteer service for the year. I started thinking of what that would include and I remembered that I volunteered to run from D.C. to Boston to raise money and awareness for the Boston Marathon bombing victims.

And my first thought was: I can't count that. That was fun! Then I realized - well I did donate time gathering sponsors and coordinating an awareness event in D.C., then I ran the thing, which entailed giving up more time, sleep, and - at times - sanity (although that's hardly quantifiable, because who really knows how much sanity I had to begin with...) and I gave physical energy...huh. I suppose that probably does count as philanthropy!

But you know what -- I wanted to do it. I paid to do it. I gave up Starbucks to do it! Because the cause was important to me -but it was also fun! It was an adventure that I'll tell my grandkids about. I looked forward to that "service" as much as I look forward to vacations. It was very much selfish while simultaneously being very much philanthropic.

I feel this way whenever I volunteer at the Walter Reed military hospital too. I always leave more hopeful.  You would think it’d be the opposite, but watching people triumph over circumstances reminds me that so much more is possible in life. I selfishly look forward to going there. I walk away with more than I walked in with - every time.

It's the same when you do small things, like stopping to help someone who dropped something, or paying for the Starbucks order of the person behind you. You end up feeling really good, and heck, sometimes you do even get recognition for it and people look at you as someone who does things.

Do it anyway.

I'm certainly not saying you should do things out of pride, and I'm not even saying you should give just to feel good, but I am saying you will feel good and on some level our subconscious learns that and we want to do more good and we feel even more happy and it starts a really great cycle of meeting someone else’s needs while also meeting our own accidentally in the process.

So maybe publicly dumping water on yourself for ALS isn't your thing (or maybe you don't know how buckets work):


but I recommend that you consider finding some cause or random act of kindness that is your thing.

You know, selfishly.


Monday, August 11, 2014

What I saw in Iraq

With the situation taking place right now in Northern Iraq, I started re-reading my thoughts after visiting there last year. I thought I'd re-post some in the hopes that it helps personalize some of the human experience there or gives a little more context into what people living there have already endured before this latest blow. I'm definitely not an expert, but I figure most Americans have not visited that particular country for "fun" so I might as well share what I saw. Another place to find some beautiful context is on the Humans of New York site or Facebook page. He is there now, visually capturing human experience in the midst of such conflict. 

(from original post in April 2013)
It's hard for me to describe what all we experienced in Iraqi Kurdistan because so much of the Kurds' experience is so foreign to our experience as Americans. There, it's very common for someone to be mid-conversation and casually mention "yeah, so then I was in the 3rd grade...and that's when my father was buried alive by Saddam...and then we went to fourth grade..." They don't miss a beat, it's so common of an experience there to have lost one or both parents, or to have been imprisoned or been tortured. Just in our short time there, we had the following occur (along with many other similar encounters):

1. While we were in mid-conversation with a Christian pastor in his living room, our host stopped him and said "well, *Pastor X [I'm not using actual names in these posts because many people there could be in danger, either for their beliefs or because they fled another country, etc.] weren't you put in prison as well?" And he laughs and says "oh yes! It was a wonderful time in my ministry because so many people in Iraq end up in prison at some point so I had a captive audience!" 

The fact that he was in prison didn't even cross his mind though. That's how normal it is.

2. While we were hanging out with Arab youth studying English in a park at the site of one of Saddam's old torture centers, we found out that the most gregarious kid of them all, one who happily told us of his plans to go to America and be in the creative arts, had had a brother shot and killed inside the torture center we toured a couple days beforehand.

3. The owners of the English learning center where these kids attended, casually mentioned that they give discounts to families in need and "martyrs." I later asked our host what they considered a martyr and she said it meant they helped anyone whose parents had been murdered by Saddam. They had a discount for that, it was so prevalent.

4. During a church service, where you'd normally hear prayer requests like "oh, I'm thinking of switching jobs so pray for wisdom" or "oh I'm having car problems, pray for that," we literally heard requests (translated for us) for things like "pray for church member X whose father was just kidnapped and held for ransom," "pray for all those across Iraq who are in prison with no justifiable cause." Such an eye-opener....

But the resiliency of the people there. 


Part of the reason I was so excited to come on this trip was because I've struggled with my own faith the last few years and I really wanted to hear from people who would inspire me again. 
And I know a lot of people who read this blog do not subscribe to faith in Jesus, but ya'll know I do and I was visiting with fellow "believers" most of the time I was in Iraq so a lot of my stories will be about them. Deal with it. :) No, in all seriousness, I hope you keep reading anyway. If not, I'll come find you....  
Anyway, I actually think the U.S. might be a more difficult place at times than other countries to have a true, meaningful Christian faith because we are so spoiled, or because Christianity is so well-known and played off as simple-minded, or because many people feel like it's enough to just go to church once a year or say you "believe in a higher power" and that's it. I think true belief in God/Jesus/The Bible requires discipline and some sacrifice and permeates your whole life, not just enters it every now and then when it's convenient. It's tough to live that way, and to find a ton of other people who also live that way, but in some African, Latin American, Middle Eastern, etc. cultures, I've seen such an intense awe of God, such a raw belief that I start craving that again and end up travelling again every few years to find it. I was searching for that when I headed to Iraq and I definitely found it. We heard many stories of people from all backgrounds explaining that they'd had visions or recurring dreams or experiences that for whatever reason made them know Jesus is real and that they needed to believe in God's sovereignty. Stuff that you can't just chalk up to coincidence or influence from someone else. Things that happened to them that they just couldn't deny.

It was remarkable to experience the raw faith in God and sense of hope these people had after going through so many horrific things. There’s no indication of bitterness or loss of faith in a “good God” because of what they’ve experienced. I find that remarkable and feel like that’s a supernaturally-given strength and peace that I could use myself sometimes. Even though my situations where I question God pale so much in comparison to theirs.

In that same city, we heard a first-hand account of someone’s torture experience in one of Saddam’s old prison/torture centers. I’ll tell you about that next post.

(you can read the next post now here, or I'll re-post it soon.)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Anatomy of a Run

Ever since my surgery in May, I've struggled getting back into running. I can barely go any distance and while I've always been slow, I feel even slower now. Plus I've developed some weird angry calf muscle thing in my left leg -- can anyone tell me how to make that go away?? Anyway, sometimes to pass the time, I step outside of myself and view what my run entails...while I'm running. Because that's the kind of craziness that starts happening in your brain when you are running. I'm sure there are plenty of similar posts out there about this but since I'm bored, I figured I'd write down what often makes up my runs. Feel free to read while I go attack my calf with The Stick again....

Pictured above: A not very good depiction of Dana's Running Trail
For a rough estimate of where each item occurs in my run, refer to the map above. This is kind of what my trail looks like but if I showed my actual trail, you might try to find me and see how slow I really am and I can't have that happen, Internet. We just don't know each other that well yet.

Dana's Typical Run: 
  1. Where Beyonce starts to sing to me and I start my run.
  2. Where I pass a man on a bike who leers at me and I make a face and run faster
  3. Where I quickly slow down again because I'm only a half mile in and I already want to stop.
  4. The place where I check to see how fast I'm running and then get angry and sad.
  5. THANK THE LORD, I've at least done one mile. I wonder if I can take a walk break now.
  6. Where Harlem Shake comes on and I have to resist the urge to stop and do The Bernie         

  7. Where I adjust my clothes
  8. Where I adjust my arm band
  9. Where I pass a ridiculously ripped girl wearing only a sports bra and a pair of shorts she clearly stole from a 4-year-old. I smile. She doesn't. I hate her and want to be her simultaneously.
  10. The place where I giggle because the man running the other way is doing the Phoebe run and doesn't know it. 
  11. The general area where I've seen: a man nearly drive into the river, a man walking his 5-foot long pet snake, and a lady roller-blading with a cocker spaniel on her shoulders. Which is not far from the general area where I once tripped over nothing and skinned my leg from my knee to my ankle. I'm on high alert in these areas.  
  12. Where I adjust my clothes
  13. Where I adjust my arm band
  14. Where I try to look like a good runner because cars can see me
  15. The area where cars can no longer see me and I resume looking like a turtle jogging through peanut butter
  16. Where I'm so tired that when I pass another runner the only thing I can do in acknowledgement is nod imperceptibly. 
  17. Where another runner passes me and bares his teeth like a Doberman. Yes sir, I understand you are attempting to smile and physically can't right now. I see your grimace and raise you an eye blink that is supposed to be a head nod in acknowledgement of your existence
  18. The place where I make an audible grunting noise in protest of this whole running thing
  19. Where I freeze and glance around, wondering how loud that grunt was since I'm wearing my headphones. 
  20. The spot where I lose all sense of pride and start to bob my head and mouth the words to a Kanye West song to distract me from running.  
  21. Where I adjust my clothes
  22. Where I adjust my arm band
  23. Where I finally hit a place where I'm close enough to my house that I'll let myself walk guilt-free the rest of the way. 
  24. Where a cute runner passes me and I get to pretend that- "Yeah bro, I just finished my run and I was super fast and awesome at it so we really are kindred running spirits!" I am able to move my face muscles again and actually smile at him. He is fast and makes me wonder why I ever try to run. 
  25. Where I get back to my house, sweaty and dejected, and then Tim Tebow tells me I did a good job through my Nike+ app. So naturally I immediately start planning my run tomorrow.