Rummaging through human waste is a very particular experience. You get brief glimpses into the lives of the people who disposed of such waste while going through a myriad of emotions ranging from anger at the carelessness of those who waste, and at times laughter, when you wonder what went down in a relatively secluded area. It is difficult to conceive of a more practical application to the idiom ‘getting your hands dirty’ then engaging in a cleanup as was done over the past weekend by participants in the STEPS Project Malta programme. Yet despite the legions of keyboard warriors and Facebook slacktivists it is such a rare occurrence to find committed, passionate people engaged in the essential yet tiring dirty work that is required.
There are many reasons why we avoid getting our hands dirty, one of the main ones I believe is that we do not care about all issues equally. I believe that human beings can care passionately about a small number of things, and this comes at the expense of others. Acknowledging the causes that really motivate us makes it easier to mobilize efforts to doing something about them. That being said, we should avoid the trap of choosing easy, convenient and trendy causes as they might not be the ones that require our energies the most, but we should also be realistic about what causes we will actually commit to.
Another reason may be that surrendering the spotlight runs contrary to human nature. We are born actors on a stage as Shakespeare claimed and engaging in the gruelling behind-the-scenes work that many times is needed can be surprisingly un-rewarding when it comes to public affirmation. However, in a world, which is over-saturated with messages being sent out continuously, it can at times be lacking in the follow-up in the action, which puts vision into motion, especially when there is no immediate reward to be had. It is easier to put a like on Facebook or share an angry comment at the state of the world instead of going out there and taking tangible action to make it a better place, even if in a small way.
Starting small is in fact the key to achieving real and sustainable change. It is difficult, if not impossible to make huge changes in the world around you, particularly if you are starting out. Setting small goals and small tasks ensures that your energy and enthusiasm are not snuffed out by overwhelming obstacles. Being self-aware will also help you realize that while we all need affirmation and being recognized for doing a good thing is a great feeling, we cannot always rely on it to get us through the day. At times patience and perseverance are better allies to have as we wage our war against apathy, as they will not abandon us when times become challenging. Above all however, the first step is in realizing that sometimes words are not enough, and we need to get our hands dirty.
STEPS Project Malta is an NGO that provides training to volunteers and voluntary organizations to help them achieve their missions in a more effective, safe and sustainable way.