Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Comfort vs. Action: The Internal Debate

posted by
Laura E. Tan
,
University Service Learning /
AmeriCorps Coordinator
ASU Mary Lou Fulton
Teachers College
A close friend of mine and I were having a conversation about his future job prospects when he mentioned that the offer he was most interested in didn’t include health insurance. Surprised, I asked him how he could consider taking the job.

He responded, “If I had health insurance, I’d be much less likely to agitate for change so that everyone can get it, too.”

“But you can be in a better position to help others if you’re not at-risk yourself,” I argued.

He shrugged. “If I’m comfortable, I feel much less urgency to try to change things.”

My friend is deeply committed to issues of social justice, which includes equal access to affordable health care for all. His stance raises the question: Does being committed to social change require making one less comfortable or resisting being “too comfortable?"

Historically speaking, great movements occur because the conditions in which people live are intolerable. As a nurse in the early 1900’s, Margaret Sanger watched numerous women die while trying to give birth because they had few safe alternatives for contraception, despite the warning they might die if they had another child. Out of that anguish was born the long struggle of the birth control movement. Nelson Mandela spent four-plus decades as an activist and freedom fighter and 27 years in prison because the demeaning National Party policy of apartheid in South Africa impeded black South Africans’ ability to live with human dignity.

As we speak, Occupy Wall St. (OWS) protestors continue to make their home at Zuccotti Park for the ninth straight week. An unseasonable October snowstorm forced Occupiers to live amid three inches of slush last week. Regardless of one’s political stance about Occupy Wall St., the fact stands that OWS supporters choose to endure the harsh conditions in solidarity for the cause.

Photo via Time
Reading about other social activists forces me to examine my own life. While my choice of career in academia affords me the opportunity to indirectly engage in social justice work on a daily basis, I have the privilege of being able to access and pay for food at any time. I can make an appointment with a doctor when the need arises. I can — and do — take a vacation when I want a break from work. Though there are other folks out there who would argue that self-sacrifice (financial or otherwise) isn’t the only route by which we can create positive change in the world, I still find myself wondering:

Could I give up more of what I have? Could I be doing more?

Am I too comfortable?

Laura E. Tan is a Coordinator in ASU’s University Service Learning department, specializing in community partnerships and AmeriCorps programming. She previously served as Program Manager for Public Allies Arizona; she also worked as Community Liaison for Drew University’s Center for Civic Engagement in Madison, New Jersey. Laura earned an MA in Organizational Communication from University of Colorado at Boulder (2007) and a BA in Communication from University of Illinois at Chicago (2004). When she’s not chained to her computer, she can be found eating slowly, laughing loudly, and playing in ultimate frisbee tournaments with rad after-parties.


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4 comments:

  1. Laura,
    Your blog came from your heart. I like the fact that you ask yourself these questions. And thoughtful people througout history have debated whether they were doing enough to fight injustice and at what price to the comfort of their lives. Keep up the debate.

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  2. Awesome question, Laura. Your friend is an incredibly inspiring person. (Though so are you!)

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  3. Thanks, Thomas and Kayla. I know that it's necessary to have people play different roles when we're talking about creating long-term change in communities. On the other hand, sometimes that just feels like a cop-out.

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  4. I think your friend is crazy. No offense. I admire the sentiment, but I disagree with the philosophy. I'm all for committing to a cause, but when it comes to risking your own health out of sheer principle, that smacks more of pride/ego than of committment to social change. I think that your argument about him being in a better position when not at risk is spot-on.

    Having said that, I do agree with the idea that we can all do more. Sacrifice is most definitely an underrated virtue in today's culture of self-indulgent excess.

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