One of the most revered Jewish sages, Hillel, famously asked three important questions that continue to have relevance to this day:
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?
Every one of us should ask our selves all three of these questions on a regular basis. The first question reminds us to take care of ourselves, as while empathy for others is important, failing to engage in self-care and self-advocacy will ultimately result in an inability to thrive as a human being and care for those who matter most.
The second question reminds us that those who engage in purely selfish behavior must ask themselves why they are on this planet as their purpose cannot simply be to ignore others to simply engage in self serving behavior.
The third question is a call to action. Specifically, it challenges each and every person who may be tired of the endless bickering of politicians and pundits that if you are not prepared to take action now, when will you do so?
Hillel’s questions have inspired a movement which calls itself If Not Now which is dedicated to ending American Jewish support for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. It is a non-violent movement striving to win the hearts and minds of the Jewish community.
As important as ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is, Hillel’s questions go far beyond any one specific issue. Regardless of one’s background, we live in communities, nations and indeed, an entire world that demands that no one sit on the sidelines.
Of course, many may lament the state of the world but simply not know what they can do to change it for the better. Indeed, nobody can engage in every single issue that seemingly cry out for our help every day. In fact, doing so, will result in violating Hillel’s first question as those who try to fix everything ultimately fail to take care of themselves and will end by crashing and burning.
If you are inspired by Hillel’s message and want to take action, but you are unsure of where to start, I suggest taking the following steps:
- Identify an issue that you really care about;
- Find an organization that is working on the issue you care about in a way that resonates with your values;
- See if that organization needs volunteers, and if it does not, or you are unable to volunteer, donate funds within your means to help the organization do its work; and
- Support candidates who seek to make the positive changes in the world that are consistent with your values. This can include volunteering for the candidates, sending donations to help their campaigns, and remembering to vote.
While I have spent my entire career doing my best to follow Hillel’s sage wisdom, I understand that for many, it is difficult. There are many challenges that we all face: personal, emotional, financial, and in today’s world, simply a feeling of helplessness due to the overwhelming nature of need. My advice to those who feel frozen in inaction is to start small. Just pick one issue to work on. Ask yourself every day,
what am I doing to make the lives of others just a little bit better?
We all have the ability to lend a helping hand to a neighbor, vote for a candidate who represents our values, or provide support to a charitable organization doing good work. This will not only help improve your community and the world, but it will make you feel better about yourself and less of a victim of those powerful forces which degrade our world on a daily basis. Doing so will allow you to answer all three of Hillel’s questions in a positive manner.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.