contribution, not credit

We are witnesses in constant crossfires. Extended months and days of the pandemic and the calamities in its wake. Obvious social, economic, racial, and leadership contrasts across continents, but particularly during and leading up to our country’s ongoing presidential election. The crucial impact from people and businesses not taking Mother Earth seriously echoes increasing weather disturbances, wildfires, species’ relocation or extinction, and other natural disasters. And, more. We can ignore the statistics, or we can change our mindset, reach from our hearts, and passionately set a personal intention to shape an inclusive, responsible, and respectful world where all energies thrive harmoniously.

Shifting old paradigms and beginning new conversations with “wiggle room” that welcomes different perspectives from our own is what is needed now. A paraphrased concept popularized by author, teacher and marketer, Seth Godin, shines light in our darkness: It’s not about receiving credit, it’s about contribution. Contribution through spontaneous acts of making life better for others; through individual creative perseverance and determination that strengthen and sustain us, making us more compassionate and resilient members of humanity; and through voice and actions that engage heightened awareness of the environment and honor sustainability. It’s about connecting, consciously or unconsciously, with something greater than we are, to inspire the well-being of all.

This past week in Terre Haute, Indiana, Ben Boardley, an 18-year-old high school cross country runner participating in the state finals saw a competitor, Faizan Khan, fall, just a few feet from the finish line. Ben slowed, reached out to Faizan, and helped him to his feet. They continued running and, together, crossed the finish line. Spectators and reporters were impressed with Ben’s sportsmanship. To him, it was nothing unusual. I just kind of saw it and did it, he said. It’s the way my parents raised me. They taught me to treat others how I’d want to be treated and to be helpful when I can. Someone tweeted an eight-second video, catching the selfless act for all to see. Ben spontaneously aided a fellow runner, and, in doing so, also contributed to strengthening humanity.

How might we become more compassionate and resilient contributors to society? Starting with ourselves, we recognize that we are part of a greater energy—one that wants us to succeed, to experience excellent health, and to live fully. Mindfully, we practice slowing down and taking time to create space for nudges from an unseen energy. Hurrying and personal agendas have no place here. Adversity, silence, and observations often show us a way to welcome inner thoughts. Often, when we pay attention, we are guided to share our abilities, talents, and purpose with others for the benefit of the larger community. However, sometimes this happens unconsciously.

Meet 14-year-old Kyler Nipper who, three years ago, was stabbed with a pencil by a classmate who bullied and teased him about his uncool, creased and cracked, black and white tennis shoes. As a result, Kyler was hospitalized and on a breathing tube for three days. After returning to his home, he developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of the event. At the time of the incident, Kyler had just had orthopedic surgery and his feet were in casts. The surgery corrected a condition, idiopathic toe-walking. He had shorter-than-normal Achilles tendons that did not allow his heels to touch the ground when he walked.

After the incident, instead of focusing on himself, Kyler decided to help other kids who were bullied or ashamed because of their scruffy shoes. He started “Kyler’s Kicks” out of his family’s apartment to collect new and gently used shoes, clean them, and redistribute them to those in need. Several city businesses assisted his efforts as collection and distribution sites. He collected so many pairs of shoes that one business donated the monthly use of a party bus to drive through and distribute his shoes to low-income neighborhoods.

A year into his project, his family had to move to another state because of overwhelming medical bills. They relocated to a studio apartment in a community for homeless veterans. Despite his family’s financial difficulties, Kyler continued his altruistic efforts. Since then, “Kyler’s Kicks” has collected and distributed over 25,000 pairs of shoes, mostly to at-risk children, teens, and people who are homeless.

Recently, Kyler saw a man he thought was homeless, walking down the street barefooted. He gauged that they had a similar shoe size and gave the man his shoes. It’s the best feeling ever, he said. Clearly, a greater energy worked through Tyler without his knowledge.

How might we come together, regardless of our culture or race, to gain greater awareness of solutions that honor and sustain the environment? Keeping our egos in check and practicing inclusion, we are more willing to see others’ viewpoints and engage in flexible conversations. We all want the same things. Our voices and actions inspire each other as we look forward together, generating sustainable solutions that benefit all.

Sam Grant, a longtime Minnesota educator and social justice organizer, is the executive director of MN350, a local growing movement to protect our climate. “MN350 supports stopping the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and shifting to renewable energy and sustainable agriculture, all while giving power and relief [food and first aid] to frontline communities most harmed by the climate crisis.”

The New York Times climate team interviewed black climate activists and learned this basic premise: “Racism makes it impossible to live sustainably.” With this background, reflect on Sam Grant’s comments about how the climate movement can also be one of anti-racism.

“I believe part of our challenge as an organization focused on the climate crisis is to honor what’s primary for people and through dialogue and through relationships, help people see the connection between that issue and the broader climate crisis,” he said. “So it’s not choosing this or that. Or this, then that. It’s this and that.”

After May 25, 2020, on behalf of MN350, Grant was one of the first climate activists to call for the prosecution of the police officers who were linked to the killing of George Floyd. Later, major environmental organizations like Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund joined with their solidarity. Grant suggests, “Police violence is an aspect of a broader pattern of structural violence*, which the climate crisis is a manifestation of. Healing structural violence is actually in the best interest of all human beings.”

*Examples of structural violence include health, economic, gender, and racial disproportions. Additional spinoffs of structural violence include cultural, political, symbolic, and everyday violence.

Flexible and accommodating conversations contribute to the well-being of humanity and Mother Earth. This is the higher path of compassion, softened hearts, and unity. We came to learn our purpose and share our contributions freely in ways that promote harmony.

From a higher vantage: Let us not be diminished by living for competition, for violence, and for choices that undermine others, so we can feel good. We are not entitled to anything while here and will take nothing with us but our memories—the stories that have defined us. May those stories speak to meaningful contributions.

© 2020 in the thick of things