Thursday, April 8, 2010

Case Notes GWU Women's Studies: When I Am A Grownup I Will Do Something

Case Study: George Washington University Women’s Studies Business Program
Title: When I Am a Grownup I Will Do Something
B. Kaufmann Founding Case Author

When I Am a Grownup I Will Do Something

“She shuddered and pulled the comforter up to her chin where it felt like a little barrier from harm. An illusion, of course, but comforting. Even in winter the drapes stayed open and the lights off. How she loved the night sky. And she found the darkness friendly. The harsh reality of the daylight didn’t lend itself well to dreaming. It seemed important to dream, to wonder at the world, at nature, to gaze at the stars and remember that someone, another child perhaps somewhere in the world, was at this very moment also imagining the future. Was he too, imagining a world of peace? Was she also dreaming of a place where all the humans get along?

She didn’t much like the way things were. She was disgusted with adults and the way they acted. Or didn’t act. Didn’t they know this wasn’t right? This steady rant of threats, of fear, of hating the enemy. They kept building more and bigger nukes and tested faster and better missiles. “Don’t the grownups know these things kill people? When you drop a 50 megaton bomb on a city it doesn’t kill just soldiers! It kills everybody. And afterward nobody can live there for a thousand years! Do the adults think this is OK? Wise? Heck, do they think this is human?”

She was too old for her youth. She felt a constant vague fatigue. Weary from the air raid sirens, radiation symbols, fall-out shelters and practice drills. As if there was a way to run from this! Or a reason to live if you survived it! It’s a horrible thing to do to kids—scare them this way and let them inherit a broken world. When Mr. Khrushchev pounded his shoe on the podium and roared “we
will bury you,” she wondered why a grownup who didn’t even know her would want to bury her. What could she, a kid, do? The grownups were in charge of the world. Why didn’t the grownups do something?

One night after prayers she choked back the tears, she decided, for the last time. She took a deep shuddering breath, turned her face to the night sky and pledged to the stars and to the future… ‘When I am a grownup I will do something…’”

So well into my teen years, vows and with the fears buried, I knew only the defiance of the adolescent. Nothing changed. The “cold war” never heated up nor did it thaw. The icy trickle of terror in the background of life never melted. No teen I knew expected to make it to adulthood. Who wanted to anyway? You couldn’t trust anybody over thirty: they represented the staleness and stalemate of the world—the establishment, a name given to everything ugly about the world according to adults.

My late teens mixed music, musicians and marijuana. My “Flower Children” friends and I tuned out the world of hatred, divisiveness, looming war. For the first time since I could remember, I felt good; I felt happy; I felt almost safe; and being alive was fun! Surrounded by like minds, we felt insulated from the establishment who hated us and despised our ways about as much as we despised theirs. But their way certainly wasn’t working!

We knew that youth had the answer: “peace and love,” but we were too naïve and misguided to pull it off. Why didn’t they get it? It was so clear, so simple. Well, if we couldn’t convince the world, we couldn’t live with it; if we couldn’t live with it, we would drop out of it. We hunkered against the world tuning it all out. What a relief it was—a little slice of idyllic world. Until Charles Manson and Richard Nixon—Manson who made “communes”and living in community in peace something freaky and evil; Nixon who made “youth” enemies of the state. The bubble burst and all the safety leaked out along with the counter culture idealistic enthusiasm.

Years later a friend asked me if I wanted to help with her dream—establishing a sister city relationship with a city in Russia. Something from the secret realms of dreams long abandoned stirred…“When I am a grownup, I will do something.” For the next two decades, as member and Executive Officer, I made peace with the enemy. I did fundraisers, concerts, performances, artwork, wrote grants, arranged travel exchanges— whatever was needed, I did it. I hung out with Russians. I met military, doctors, teachers, cops, business people, closet feminists, communists, and even KGB. Many late night conversations and vodkas later, I learned that my Russian friends felt the same way I did—disillusioned, betrayed and angry with their government, and bone weary of the cold war. Together we vowed to build something better, something lasting; something warm.

My last act for the partnership was to write and administrate a quarter of a million dollar USAID grant for a program within the START II Treaty Cooperative Threat Reduction mission—a Russian-American weapons reduction program to decommission WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction.) One target was a chemical weapons storage facility near our Russian sister city. Our grant built the goodwill and social infrastructure. At the close of the twentieth century, and the cusp of the millennium, I found myself standing in Red Square below St. Basil’s Cathedral. That towering icon used to strike terror for me for so many years; now it inspired awe. I watched history being made in a national press conference and then toured a secret location with American and Russian military leaders where the facility was being built. Decades of hope and hard work came together in an instant. I pinched myself. Hard. I swallowed. Hard. And I heard a faint child’s voice echo from far in the past, a raw and spontaneous promise made to the stars… “When I am a grownup, I will do something…”

Along on that trip was a local non-profit director who embodied the ugly American. Controlling, arrogant and self-involved, she insisted on being the center of attention. Used to European spas, she had little understanding and even less tolerance for the trappings of third world reality. She caused a scene in customs (a dangerous practice in a country easy to disappear in), complained about all the arrangements and accommodations, made culturally insensitive remarks, and talked incessantly in the background—even during national military press conferences. And she really disliked me. Her branch of a national humanitarian organization was, however, essential to our local partnership. She wanted me gone from the project and made her feelings public. The HMO that was invited to join the partnership in the late stages meanwhile hijacked the project and uninvited the founding group whose work and dedication built the program. I had seen it coming and had been holding depression at bay with medications that caused lots of side effects and personality changes that I did not see coming. Grassroots programs work because of the spirit that inhabits them. Corporate projects meanwhile, have all the nuances of PR and big business where spirit vacates the form.

When I arrived home, I and the remaining founders were thanked and released. They would now “take it from here.” When my life mission collapsed, so did I. What did my life mean now? What does a disillusioned wounded grassroots peacemaker do when it feels like her life is over, her life mission gone? She falls headlong into the ripping blackness, curls up into a fetal position and makes the abyss home.

I was battling a broken spirit; I had PTSD. My soul was gone. I fired God. I couldn’t see past the pain. I didn’t know until much later that wounded healers are the best kind of healers. I felt dead inside. I needed something to animate my life again, to animate me. Finally, I joined a seminary, a community of Spiritual Peacemakers, and I went looking for the missing pieces of me. I missed my mission and feeling connected to something bigger. I began to reclaim me, but couldn’t find God anywhere.

“Look,” I railed at God, “if my life is truly about peacemaking then my mission isn’t over. But I have no clue what direction I’m going in or what I’m supposed to do. My life feels meaningless; there is no juice in it, no juice in me. If you don’t show up right now, show me where I am going, what I am supposed to be doing and show me in a way that is clear and unmistakable, I am outta here!” I had no plan to take my own life but I felt as if I could will an ending. Life is about meaning and I had none.

Soon after my “conversation” with God, the founder of a worldwide network emailed me, encouraging me to consider becoming a consultant. The network is a way to share one’s message with the world. The mission is to create a critical mass of messengers willing to show up and share their unique message to create a new species on Planet Earth—the new and improved human. “When I am a grownup I will do something…”

Case Discussion questions:

Do people tend to define themselves through their “roles?” Jobs? Titles? How is that beneficial? Problematic?

Is there an antidote to feeling helpless or hopeless? What might that be?

Is there friendliness in darkness? In darkness of spirit? What is its purpose? How might it be transformative? How might it transform a person?
What is personal responsibility? What is collective responsibility? Discuss the difference and similarities. How do you demonstrate each?

Is there such a thing as a “life purpose?” A “life mission?” How do you think that applies to you? To others? How would finding your life mission change your life?

Can one person change the world? Discuss why/why not. Can you give examples?

No comments:

A few Thoughts...

When I think about it, my own life is no less rich and the living no less inspiring than my pioneering ancestors and I come from a long line of Indians and outlaws so don't ever turn your back on me!

Life is, after all, a slice of human consciousness lived from its place in human evolution. "From here to eternity" as it were-- from earth to the stars, from personal space to cyberspace, from a small local footprint to the world reduced to the size of a notebook and sitting on your lap!

As a child I lived with the perpetual and immenent threat of annihilation. That's child abuse! It wasn't a kid-friendly world and I couldn't understand why the grown-ups who were in charge weren't doing something?

So at age seven with my face in the window eyes turned up into the night sky and staring at the stars I made a vow: "When I am a grown-up, I will do something."

My writing is that something and I write to "simply change the world." If that sounds like a lack of humility it isn't because I know that one person absolutely can change the world and I've met some who have.

Kay Kennedy put together an anthology that puts the reader in the midst of history to view it from the inside out.

When I was in high school and even college, history classes were stale and boring featuring memorization and regurgitation of dates that coincided with events that had no human face, certainly no magic, and no life!

Anthologies are great fun and stores are rich remembrances. History books chronicle; stories are little narrative slices of living. History comes alive through story. I often think of my grandmother and her story, her life-- the history she lived. In her lifetime she saw humankind evolve from horse and buggy to man on the moon.

I was a sixties kid and for the youth of the sixties, turmoil, disillusionment, and revolution were everyday 'business as usual'. Like a radio perpetually on low volume, fear and death dronned on in the background. The superpowers threatened to extinguish all life on the planet, the Vietnam War was escalating and peers were being escorted home under American Flag blankets. The civil rights and equal rights movements were testing human civility, and faster than one could recover from one shock another real life hero would fall to yet another assassin. Despair was commonplace. Contrast that with a man on the moon... we could conquer space travel but couldn't make nukes or war obsolete! It was a time when youth needed hope because hope was scarce. When it was finally resurrected, it came in the form of idealism and a philosophy of brotherly and universal love. Perfect principles; imperfect execution.

For others who contributed to "Looking Back," the history is different for each because the "times" were different as well as the perspective of the individuals. The stories of human societal evolution are enlightening, heartwarming, poignant and spellbinding. They put a human face on the past.

And there are people now who are putting a face on the future...