By Jim Selman | Bio
President Obama held a briefing on the Community Solutions Agenda this past Tuesday, in which he acknowledged the contributions of several winners of the “Purpose Prize” along with other not-for-profit community organizations. The Purpose Prize was created a few years ago by Civic Ventures as a way to focus our attention on the ongoing contributions that elders make in our country and the world. I thought the President’s acknowledgment summed it up nicely, not only for the Elders in the room but for people of all ages committed to making a difference.
And finally, I want to thank all of you here today for everything you’re doing to find new solutions to some of our oldest, toughest problems. I know what you do is not easy. I know that for many of you, the hours are long, the pay could be better—let’s face it. But I also know the difference that each of you make. I know the lives that you change every single day. You teach us that there’s no such thing as a lost cause if you’re willing to be creative, and challenge the conventional wisdom, and take some risks—if you’re willing to try, and fail, and then try again until you find something that works. And today, I want to recognize that pioneering spirit and thank you all for the contributions that you’re making to our communities.
Sometimes when we think about people who volunteer or spend their money and their time in the service of others, it can be construed as charity or some sort of ‘selfless’ practice. In my experience, when I participate in opportunities to be of service or make a difference, I always gain more than I give. In fact, in organizations where I have recruited and managed volunteers, my policy is that a person wanting to ‘help’ MUST agree to get more than they give or I ask that they not volunteer.
I think it is important to consider that people who give of themselves do so as an expression of their own ‘wholeness’, not for that matter to satisfy some need to be recognized and not just for the benefit of others. They give of themselves because that is what there is to do when one knows who they are and is responsible for their lives and their world. Picking up after oneself and assisting another is never a sacrifice, but a natural extension of being a complete human being.
This is not to say that we should not acknowledge others and ourselves when we participate meaningfully in our communities. The words of the President are perfect in my experience in saying both “Thank you” and also in recognizing the core human quality of ‘willingness’ to keep going when things are difficult or seem hopeless. Whether we call this quality courage, or tenacity or faith, it is the capacity to commit to a possibility when there is no evidence for it being possible.
Our elders have mostly learned that, at the end of the day, the process of life can be as important as the destination and that the point to any undertaking is to have a purpose that is worth failing for. Whatever our purpose, if a worthy one, it calls for the best in us. The Purpose Prize recognizes the accomplishment; the President recognized those who accomplished it. Thank you, Mr. President.