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This is a repost of an article I wrote for my business website.  You can read it there if you like: http://www.socialfire.ca/component/content/article/1-latest-news/36-our-backyard

This is an opinion piece about taking responsibility for our own community.

A few years ago my doctor went to Africa with family (wife + 3 kids) for 6 months to volunteer as a doctor there.  I remember asking him when he returned to his normal practice here in Kamloops “How do you adjust to coming back to work here?”

In Africa most of the cases would be life or death scenarios.  Look at childbirth – in Africa it is a very dangerous scenario for a woman, on average 1 in 16 die!  In the US that number is 1 in 2500. (stats from this article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3206960.stm).  Compare that to Canada where healthcare is free and so many of his patients will be there due to cold viruses or are hypochondriacs who refuse to take responsibility for their body and health.  How do you remain passionate and supportive in such a different environment?

His answer has stuck with me for many years (I asked this question 9 years ago).

To paraphrase him, he talked about the fact that there are many problems in our community, but most people seem to ignore them – become desensitized.  It is much easier to travel to another country for a limited amount of time and focus on fixing a finite problem.  There is no lingering responsibility.  Goto Guatemala and help build a school – it is discrete and satisfying.  Conversely, if sign up to tutor children at a group home in your own community, is a much longer commitment and won’t deliver the same consistent gratification as a one time project.

I support helping out the global community, so don’t construe this article as me saying we shouldn’t volunteer or fund-raise overseas.  But there are so many people with altruistic intentions and sufficient resources – how do we get everyone to channel some of that energy to fixing problems in our own backyard.  How can we ignore, or claim to be powerless to help, the bums wandering downtown or the line up at the food bank; then go visit a foreign country and build a well or bring clothes to an orphanage.

We need to do both.  We to see everything going on around us at home – in our country, in our neighborhood, even in our family – as well share our wealth with the global community.  Try to be fair with your resources.

On the flip side, I find it interesting that most business CSR initiatives are locally based.  In Kamloops for example, the last United Way Day of Caring was a group from RBC building a community garden downtown (http://blog.unitedwaytnc.ca/?p=4663), Interior Vault is big supporter of the Food Bank (http://interiorvault.com/about.html) and many businesses are stepping up to help out with volunteers for the Western Canada Summer Games (http://www.2011wcsg.com/sponsors/).  So maybe business entities are compensating for the tendency for individuals to look elsewhere.

Food for thought.

I have always wanted to be a pioneer.  I fantasize about living in Little House on the Prairie and riding my horse to work.  Yet I am fully aware that it was backbreaking hard work and in those times a bad cold or childbirth, was a life-threatening experience.  Why would I yearn for that?

Can you imagine getting in a cramped boat in England headed for some unknown land, trekking through forests and mountains with all that you own in a pack?  You persevere and go further west.   You raise a family in a caravan or on a raft.  Why would you do this?

I kind of  had an epiphany the other day.  The answer is simple – to have a better life.  They believed with all their heart that their choices would lead to a better life for themselves and their families.  Sometimes there was no turning back when it didn’t turn out as planned, but they made tough choices because they knew that things couldn’t be worse than their current conditions.

They had adventures, changed the world, fell in love and died knowing they had given it all in search of the best life possible.

In my current life, I don’t always feel that way.  I don’t know if the choices I am making are making a better life for me or my family?

Will getting a promotion and getting more money improve our lives?  Will devoting a life to charity make my family better off?  Will staying home to take care of the kids make us all happier?  Really – I don’t know…..   I don’t need to worry about food on the table, great friends, decent health, an awesome house.  So how do I turn around and say with 100% conviction “This choice will improve our lives!”.

This is what I think I covet – this feeling of certainty, and then the adventures and feelings of accomplishment that follow.  And I would love to ride my horse everywhere – but that doesn’t capture it all.

And you know what, when you are younger you get some of that feeling.  First, I am going to university – that will improve my life, so off I go on a great adventure.  As a single new graduate traipsing around the continent looking for those early jobs, I was full of purpose and had great experiences.  Maybe this feeling of uncertainty is the curse of middle class success.

Regardless, I am truly grateful for what I do have.  So I will continue to fantasize about riding my horse to work as a pioneer, but I will be grateful that I didn’t die giving birth to my first daughter and I have a great family instead.  I will try to find those ‘right’ choices that I think will make our lives better, or at maybe everyone’s lives better.

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