Wisdom from Those Gone Before

ST’s post reminded me of a conversation I had last September with someone I’ve admired for his consistent commitment to justice-making over decades (peace and development work in Vietnam during the American War in that country, international and community interfaith work with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, etc).

Knowing that it can be easy to burn out or drift toward the mainstream, I was interested in how he’s sustained his passion and activism over the course of the years. His answers came almost faster than I could write.

– Plant a garden and connect with the earth.
– Nuture your own heart and soul — and connect with those of others.
– Connect with artists, music.
– Take Polaroid camera along so that you can share/leave something with those you visit instead of taking all the photos along with you.
– Suspect people with education who can rationalize anything.
– Don’t let it go to your head — stay close to common people.
– Political people without sense of humor kills spirit and soul.
– I married an artist who’s a private person who keeps me from burning out (He mentioned that alone he might tend to invite everyone to their home at all times, and she helps maintain some important personal space for their family).
– Draw on faith.
– With a global community, you can bounce ideas off all sorts of people.
– Community living.
– Cultivate diverse skills (He has worked as an electrician when other “movement” work was not available).
– Gotta get through the phase of having young kids (if you have kids).
– Had to learn how to fix houses (they remodeled a number of houses, which they’ve then sold off).
– Beware of the self-righteous.
– Cultivate good friends who can call you out when you’re too smart.

He then ended with this analogy:

When a mirror aligns itself with the sun, it can be really powerful. We are mirrors, not the source. So align yourself with the forces of the universe — Be in the way. Ask yourself, “Is everyone winning?” That is the work of God.

I’ve appreciated these bits of advice because they arise from his very tangible experience and relationships — they’re grounded and practical. (I’ve since brought plants into my room, and my first tomatoes are starting to ripen — delightful!)

What wisdom have other YARs valued hearing from mentors or previous generations?

Comments (2)

  1. TimN

    Jason, thanks for this list. Charletta and I spent the weekend at the “Nurturing Peacemakers” gathering at Camp Friendenswald. There were quite a few more older activists then younger. I thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to soak up the wisdom from my elders. More then any one piece of advice, I think just spending time together with people from earlier generations is a vital way for young activists to renew ourselves and keep things in perspective.

    I’m going to write a longer description of the event for by blog on the Mennonite and I’ll post a link here.

  2. Skylark

    Great post. It’s encouraging to see this guy have so many ideas. I’ve asked people before how they keep from burning out, and they usually stumble around for words before coming up with, “Um, I try to make time for my needs, too?”

    I’m curious, how do “- I married an artist who’s a private person who keeps me from burning out (He mentioned that alone he might tend to invite everyone to their home at all times, and she helps maintain some important personal space for their family)” and “Community living” fit together? Was he talking about living in the same house or close proximity to other people? That tends to limit personal space and alone-time.

    I found that when I lived alone, I had a higher need for alone-time than when I lived with other people. Maybe availability of a place to be alone created that need, or at least increased it? Living with other people has had so many benefits, not the least of which is improving my cooking skills because although I love cooking, I dislike doing it for just myself. If there’s someone around for me to offer food to, I’ll cook like crazy and have a great time.

    Another thing that’s been valuable is being around people younger than me. They look to me as the wise adult, who’s still young enough to be cool. (I turn 25 on Saturday.) So, this makes me more mindful of the things I say and do, and I hear myself saying things like, “Listen to your parents. Really, they care about you, and they tell you to come home straight after school because they want you to be safe. If you waited around and came home in the dark, there would be more risks.” I remember when I was the same age as these kids, it didn’t matter how many times my parents told me something until someone I considered to be “cool” told me the exact same thing, and then I listened.

    Which brings up this issue: How does one effectively encourage people to listen to those who are not considered “cool”?

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