Belief and Action

27 01 2011

First: Greetings from Kenosha, Wisconsin. I moved away from Texas in late August to Illinois, and then landed a job in Kenosha about a month later. It has been an adjustment but the change is a good one.

I have to keep reminding myself that I am new here – I have seen more of Kenosha in the last three months than I ever had in 41 years – and when I don’t feel “settled” I cast about for some perspective and ultimately ask if Kenosha is a place I want to lay roots in. Perspective usually comes in the form of a trip to Lake Michigan and a reminder of why I came here. First and foremost, I came here to be close to the lake.

But what about this life?

I attended a free lecture at UW-Parkside by Dan Gediman from This I Believe. In a nutshell, it is a project aimed at encouraging thought and reflection about one’s own beliefs and core values, and then sharing with the world a single essay that distills those values into a single statement.

Rather than re-hash some of the excerpts from the NPR series, I will zero in on a comment made by Sister Helen Prejean of Dead Man Walking fame. She said, paraphrased from memory, that the question is not, “what do I believe”, but rather, “what do I do?”

I’d tack this on: What do your beliefs compel you to do?

I think, in this day and age, that it is easy to make some pithy belief statement like “I believe in smaller government,” but how does that compel one to act?

Speaking for myself, I was struck by a personal mission statement in 2010: To inspire, encourage, and empower the heroes of tomorrow.

As a belief statement, this would read “I believe that it is important for me to inspire, encourage, and empower the heroes of tomorrow.” And as belief statements go, it seems no better or worse than any other.

But what has it compelled me to do?

Being honest, I think it is a justification for attending female sporting events. I am, per my internal narrative, inspiring others to become athletes, encouraging present and future athletes by showing my support, and empowering these athletes by buying tickets to the games or team merchandise. But is this really accomplishing my mission in any substantial way?

I was asked this past summer, “who are the heroes?” I thought I had an answer for that but really, I didn’t. Under-served female athletes, that’s who. But what about under-served females, period? And why not “the under-served”, whoever they might be?

I do think it is possible to hold deep-seated beliefs and yet act in a way that contradicts those beliefs, such as believing that children are our future and yet not investing one’s personal time, effort and resources into a child’s education. I think that no matter how well-intentioned we might be, or how idealistic, pragmatism often wins out and the higher ideals are not realized.

In my own case, I have been frustrated with my stated mission, and my service to it. I feel well-intentioned yet superfluous.

But, as the Tao Te Ching reminds me, “the journey of a thousand leagues began with what was under the feet.”

And to that end, I have been filling in as a sitter for my neighbor’s son.

It’s a start.

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