January’s Presidents Message

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On the one-year anniversary of the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, Rabbi Shaul Praver put into words something that I have believed for a very long time: that service heals the world. In a December 14 interview with NPR’s Scott Simon, Rabbi Praver said, “We have found the cure for the social disease of violence, hatred and bigotry, and that cure is good old-fashioned lovingkindness. When everyone practices that, it does change the atmosphere of a room, of a town, of a community, of a state and a country. And so, it is not of only local value, but it is of universal value.”

While many acts of lovingkindness are obviously spontaneous and unfacilitated, many more are not, and they simply would not occur without our efforts, as volunteer engagement professionals, to plan, organize, and implement them. Think about that.

God knows that our world has a lot of healing to do, that we have a lot of violence, hatred, and bigotry to “cure” and it is never more painfully obvious than at this time of year when we transition from the old year into the new. Late December is when so many news programs, talk shows, newspapers, and magazines pause to “look back” at “the year in review.” And what did we see?

2013’s top headlines included the Boston Marathon bombings, the chemical attacks on civilians in Syria, the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh, the violent rape & murder of a student riding a public bus in India, the hostage crisis in Algeria, and the mall siege in Kenya, to name just a handful. And this doesn’t even begin to catalogue the suffering and destruction caused by natural disasters like the deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma or supertyphoon Haiyan in the Philippines….

The world feels literally saturated with suffering, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Close to 40 people were murdered in our own community in 2013. And what about all of the individual experiences of hardship and loss that never even made it to the first page, or the last page for that matter? I’m pretty sure that the day-to-day misery of the chronically homeless man who just moved into one of our apartments after living on the streets for more than four years never made it to the papers. How many people like him are out there, their stories unreported, their struggles undocumented, their pain unacknowledged? 

Of the many statements made at GRAVA’s November workshop on self-care, one in particular really resonated with me. According to recent brain research, we are hard-wired to experience negative events more intensely than positive events, we use stronger language to describe them, and we retain impressions of them in our memory much longer.”Bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.” Also according to research, “Many good events [are required to] overcome the psychological effects of a bad one.” In fact, the researchers quote a ratio of five goods for every one bad.

Five goods for every one bad.

A lot of suffering has occurred since Newtown, too much to even comprehend. And if we apply the 5:1 ratio, that means that we volunteer managers have a whole lot of “curing” to do. But if you believe, like I do, in the healing power of service, you will feel a sense of privilege and optimism and purpose and hope as we head into the new year. Your motivation will be refreshed and your determination will be renewed. What we do matters, it makes a difference, and with every effort we tip the balance in favor of healing!

Let’s get to work. We can’t afford to take our jobs lightly since, as Rabbi Praver said, we have the capacity to “change the atmosphere of a room, of a town, of a community, of a state and a country. And so, it is not of only local value, but it is of universal value.” There’s a lot at stake and we have a duty to do what we do to the very best of our ability. The redemption of the entire universe depends upon us.

At your service,

Alison Jones-Nassar, CVA
President, GRAVA
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