You ever been smacked over the head with a revelation? Like, you are one way your whole life and then one thing happens and BAM! You are changed forever? That happened to me about a year ago when I listened to this NPR podcast on a walk around the reservoir. The thesis of this episode is that there’s this professor guy who had this radical idea of acting on his morals. He visited a slaughter house in college, and gave up meat the next week. He witnessed the horrors of poverty and then devoted 25% of his income to charity. Bam. See a wrong, right it. Simple as that. And I’m hearing this, mind blown, and I’m like, I gotta do something. I figure it can’t be that hard. I mean, that’s the classic movie trope. Young idealist meets world and world responds openly and lovingly to young idealist’s ideas. I’m pretty sure how that’s how that goes.
Shockingly, being a good person is hard. When I proposed vegetarianism to my mom, she laughed me out of the kitchen. Turns out it’s impossible to cost effectively feed six people using tofu and beans. Do you know how many beans equal one meatball? I don’t know, but it’s too many beans. I tried emailing my representatives about issues that were important to me, but they were not interested in responding. All of my attempts to get my friends to join me at the food pantry failed spectacularly, and sadly I was too broke to give money to anyone. My brief experiment in the world of being a good person was a disaster. But I still cared about the world. The environment. Racial inequity. Wealth inequality. Homelessness. The foster care system. Food insecurity. The opioid epidemic. The shrinking middle class. AI, Amazon, contaminated drinking water, the astonishing brutality of the Congolese coltan mining industry. Point is, there is a lot of stuff to worry about. Too much stuff! It’s the opposite of an embarrassment of riches. An embarrassment of no money and sadness. That’s the thing about activism. There are way too many problems to fix at once. And even if you can focus on one, 99 times out of 100, it ends in failure. Blistering, burning, rage filled failure. And you just gotta take it and try again, because that 1 in 100 opportunity will change the world. That 99% rejection rate is tough to take alone. I learned that the hard way.
Then I found Teen JUST-US. A light in the darkness. Suddenly I was surrounded by people who care. People who wanted to make a difference and would be willing to work for the chance to do so. It was a place where I didn’t feel stupid or sensitive for getting moved by a sentimental YouTube ad, I got inspired! To practice Tikkun Olam. To learn teshuva. I had a community behind me to help me through the hopeless moments and celebrate with me through the magical ones. I can only hope that every justice advocate ends up with a squad half as supportive and persevering as this one.