I spent most of the first week of May doing public policy advocacy in Washington DC, something I have done for nearly a decade. Wow, was this year different! As I flew back to California, these four words resonated in my thoughts: Fear, Complacency, Conviction and Courage.
I was seriously overtaken by the degree of fear that existed amongst legislative staffers--on both sides of the aisle--and people who live in the DC area. Folks are genuinely fearful about what’s happening to our country. Is our democracy being eroded? Are our major institutions being destroyed? Are we on the verge of World War III? Has partisanship become so toxic to render Congress paralyzed? These were just some of the fears people expressed freely. Add to this, a pervasive spirit of complacency within our controlling party, and it didn’t bode well for feelings of optimism and hope.
I don’t want to talk politics. I want to translate my experience into the realm of community service, positively helping people of need.
FEAR is not a bad thing. In fact, we are “wired” with a natural fear-or-flight, hyperarousal response mechanism for our self protection. When we experience fear, there is a chemical reaction in our brain which triggers us to react in the fear-or-flight mode. This response mechanism saves lives and minimizes harm.
Unfortunately, chronic fear is quite harmful. We have learned definitively that children who experience routine trauma are constantly in the chemical reaction of “fear-or-flight” mode, which will eventually do significant damage to their brain. This harmfulness is also the case with adults as well, leading to adrenal fatigue and a whole host of physical maladies. If you are not familiar with this science, I encourage you to read the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) research, or the research done by Dr. Bruce Perry to get a clearer picture of the damage caused by fear and trauma.
FEAR also serves as a major obstacle to human activity. I don’t scale rock cliffs or skydive due to my fear of heights. But sometimes fear is much more subtle than that. There is currently a major shortage of foster families locally and nationwide. And, there are a constellation of “fears” that preclude people from even inquiring about foster parenting. Fears about such as unknown characteristics and behaviors of foster youth, the potential negative impact on their families, being rejected, being forced to adopt, failing, and being hurt and sad when a child is removed. These fears are understandable, but they are also easily resolved. There are definitely solutions for overcoming fears about helping others.
As I recently “walked the halls of” Congress, I was struck by the degree of COMPLACENCY that has permeated those in control. Complacency is a false sense of self-satisfaction in the face of potential harm, or a strong feeling of being satisfied with the way things are and not wanting to make them better. COMPLACENCY is definitely a foe to be reckoned with in the human services field. People need to be engaged and involved in solving human needs in their community. Complacency not only inhibits good works, but it denies individuals the opportunity to experience the joy and a sense of satisfaction which only comes from serving others. To the extent individuals retreat into their insulated, protected lives, the greater human misery prevails. People need people to overcome adversity. As the saying goes, “if not you, who?”
Over my five decades of serving children, youth and families, I have always been impressed by the passion and CONVICTION of those who have accomplished the most amazing positive impacts on others. For instance, I have known two families who have taken in dozens, probably hundreds, of foster children and youth--the Dawsons for over 50 years and the Wards for over 30 years. I can summarize the secret to their success in one word CONVICTION! Both of these families were driven by an unshakable belief that they could significantly help foster children and youth by serving as surrogate parents. They were both right on – making an immeasurably positive difference in the lives of the children they parented.
Another observation I made in DC, was the pronounced lack of CONVICTION to serve the common good of all Americans. Instead, people were dominated by political expediency with no moral basis!
Overcoming FEAR and COMPLACENCY and acting on one’s CONVICTIONS only comes through COURAGE! It is the Courageous ones within our society who make the greatest positive impact. Dr. Martin Luther King had the COURAGE to put his life on the line to stand up against decades of racism, hatred, discrimination and injustice. Our country was founded on the backs of men and women who had the COURAGE to stand up against the tyranny and oppression of England. I certainly wish that the politicians of this generation had the conviction and courage to transcend partisanship and focus on the greater good of our country, as did our forefathers.
Positive social change only comes through courageous individuals, with strong convictions who are not complacent and have overcome fear!
Needless to say, there is no shortage of opportunities to serve and help others whose lives have been ravaged by calamity, abuse, injustice, tragedy, trauma and a plethora of social ills. What does exist though, is a shortage of courageous folks with strong conviction to join the efforts to right the wrongs and promote health and wellbeing.
Within the Family Care Network, we need foster parents, we need tutors and reading teachers, we need mentors, we need volunteers and we need qualified employees. This is my call to overcome FEAR and COMPLACENCY, actualize personal CONVICTION and muster the COURAGE to be part of the solution!