I believe that the cost of your ideals is the true test.
My education has reinforced my belief that one person has the ability and obligation to try to change the world for the better. While attending a Quaker high school I studied how Friends’ throughout the centuries have stood up to oppression, often defying social convention in order to be true to their personal and religious beliefs. Examples of these actions of social justice include their participation in the Underground Railroad, helping slaves escape to their freedom, and steadfastly remaining pacifist in times of war.
I graduated from a liberal college known for defying convention throughout its history, e.g. demonstrating ground-breaking policies of acceptance towards women and minorities. In a graduate of public health I learned tools, both research and applied, needed to assess and improve people’s health.
I was not at any risk while attending the campus rallies. I could express my indignation at government hypocrisy perfectly safely while surrounded by my peers and teachers in the classroom. Learning how to help others in graduate school seemed as simple as learning how to conduct statistical and policy analysis. I knew intellectually that the Quakers and others have frequently put themselves in harms way, including risking jail, injury or death, for their convictions, but intellectual knowing and personal experience are often quite different things.
Recently I helped establish and run a neighborhood group in my area. Along with some of my neighbors we held monthly meetings with city officials to discuss our concerns, held a neighborhood block party, and held a fundraiser for a local community center. The mission of our group was to work to improve the quality of life for all residents.
Not everyone was enthusiastic about these efforts and the positive changes we made. In his words and his actions one of the local thugs has made his hostility clear.
Beforehand the possibility of any negative reaction coming back at me had not occurred to me or, if I thought of it, I didn’t feel it in my gut the way you do when you fear that you or your loved ones may not be safe as a direct result of your actions.
As Mark Twain said, “Courage is not the lack of fear, but acting in spite of it.” I understand this better now and know that there are so many others who daily take similar risks, and greater ones. Personally, I am still finding my way.