Best Investments in Sustainability
by Laura Parker Roerden
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers — Wordsworth.
A whole culture of shopping has sprouted up around Thanksgiving weekend: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. But perhaps you also have heard of Giving Tuesday. The first three are ways to get a jump on holiday shopping and some deep discounts in an attempt to check off some boxes on our to-do lists. But Giving Tuesday is an entirely different phenomenon. This day encourages a deeper giving; one that asks us to align our actions to our values and ideals.
Now what does all this have to do with sustainability, you ask? The obvious answer would be: choose an environmentally-focused effort to get involved in or donate to for Giving Tuesday. But I want to suggest something even more radical: Giving Tuesday is a reminder of the power of service to create sustainability in communities and to create hope in our hearts.
The problems we face can feel insurmountable: until we roll up our sleeves and face them together.
Author Liz Cunningham, in her beautiful book Ocean Country, speaks about service as she travels the globe uncovering stories of every day people working in their communities to address real problems facing the ocean. On the surface, their efforts looked like they might not add up to a solution. But in fact, they so often miraculously do. Liz summarizes: “I learned that the heart of hope is the passion of rescue.”
It’s something we all have: that drive to make a deep difference to the world. It feels good to give. And giving literally gives back. Numerous studies that have looked at service as a tool for education enumerate important gains in attitudes toward self, attitudes toward school and learning, civic engagement, social skills, and academic performance.
I’ve seen this many times in my work directing Ocean Matters, a marine science through service project, where young people literally bloom like flowers before our eyes as they give deeply in service to a problem facing the ocean. When given a choice between simply goofing off and working, even when in a tropical paradise, the teens always choose the work.
One Ocean Matters student Robyn described it this way: “I think back to those last couple days [of the program], when we were putting together our research report, doing standard deviations, working really hard. We wouldn’t have accomplished that much if we didn’t all feel that way about the reef and care about the project and the topic. I have a quotation that sums it up: ‘Nothing in the world is accomplished without passion.'”
Caring deeply and activating hope can be a gift we give ourselves and the young people in our lives.
Wishing you all a #GivingTuesday that sustains your soul, your family, and your community!
For more information about designing service learning projects for young people see Service is Learning: Activating Hope on #GivingTuesday in the Ocean Matters blog.
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Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women.