Getting Out of Our Funk

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I’m in a funk. I’ll bet you are, too.

Those of us who value young people, who give our all in the pursuit of a vision of a just, life-enhancing society for kids, can hardly help but feel a bit defeated at the moment.

From a national perspective – that is, from a macro level – it is hard to fathom how it has come to this: schools under-funded and, in too many places, separate and unequal; endless reports about the importance of after-school opportunities and too few decision-makers listening; shameful poverty rates; evaporating supports for families on the economic edge.

When it comes to supporting kids, our society is mediocre at best. To create a society that truly prizes its young people, we at least need:

• A vision for our children that guides our nation and connects us all in a hopeful, noble campaign.

• Prominent leaders who give voice and energy to this vision.

• A national priority that lifts up the importance of children and youth and galvanizes citizens.

• Public policy that coalesces around this priority, and is sustained beyond any single presidential administration.

• Investment – that is, big money.

We’ve got none of these right now. No vision, no voice, along with dwindling investment, incoherent policy and the folly of an education mandate that demands school action with no funding. For those of us whose lives and careers are about creating a healthier society for our kids, it’s easy to feel small, disconnected, even insignificant.

So, how does one keep moving toward a positive vision in the midst of so many obstacles? I can tell you what I do: I go first to my comfort zone, which is the world of books and ideas.

In this cerebral plane, ironically, my heart finds solace. Why? Because revisiting what others have espoused helps me recapture an important axiom about social change. With a gentle whack on the forehead, I remind myself of this: Lasting social change is about the power of people – many of whom are ordinary citizens – to move forward locally, at the level of human touch, at the level of doing what is possible.

One of my favorite tomes of the moment is The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, by Paul Rogat Loeb. In this delicious series of essays, Loeb gathers the wisdom of Nelson Mandela, Wendell Berry, Alice Walker, Marion Wright-Edelman and others, reminding us that positive change is triggered as much at the micro level as at the macro.

“History shows that the proverbial rock can be rolled, if not to the top of the mountain, then at least to successive plateaus,” Loeb tells us. “History also shows that even seemingly miraculous advances are in fact the result of many people taking small steps together over a long period of time.”

Cerebral is good, but heart is better. And I recently felt the power of one person’s heart in spades. Let me tell you about Randi Griner. She was one of our staff members at the Search Institute for almost six years. For 20 years, she created a life of work and service – both in her private and professional lives – that always helped people and communities do their best for kids. She did this quietly and energetically, with passion, heart and grace.

Randi died in August at age 47, in her sleep at home, mother of two fine sons, wife of a dynamic man who partnered with her on behalf of young people. Randi’s death rocked us to our core. We’d lost a compassionate colleague whose every breath, every heartbeat was about making the world a better place.

We closed our offices and headed en masse to her funeral. What we saw there was transformative: community. Hundreds of adults and kids, all linked through Randi, all touched, emboldened, challenged and changed by her.

I never really said “thank you” to Randi; didn’t think I needed to. I think differently about that now. I know that there are a couple hundred thousand of us, maybe a couple million, all touching lives, building community. We are a loose-knit community, but we are a community nonetheless: of convictions, of action, of long-term love for kids, and of collective change we cannot quite see or grasp.

So, thank you.

Hidden behind the funk that the macro view imposes on us lies hope and possibility. We are a powerful force. I see it in daily commitment to kids. I see it in you. Keep the faith. Our time will come.