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Wisdom & Insight
Letting Go of Impact on Others
Probably the biggest challenge for those who wish to travel the world and be of service is the demand placed upon oneself, whether it be personally- or socially-“inflicted,” to make an impact. The pressure to make an impact has been continuously thrust upon us in an ever-growing body of literature from the academic community, the media, bloggers, and writers the world over. But wouldn’t it be better, wouldn’t it make more sense, if we changed the mantra of making an impact on others to making an impact on ourselves?
When I took a moment to rewrite the FAQs for VolunTourism.org about this time last year, there was one question in particular to which I added a significant amount of text: “Is there a certain amount of time you should expect to stay in order to make a real impact?” Most of the new answer, which follows below, focuses on the distinction between the two audiences who could be impacted by the service we perform – others and ourselves:
"The point being, no one can guarantee that you will make any real or substantive impact on any person or thing in a destination, regardless of the time you may or may not spend there. Local residents play the only role in this determination – - they are the ones who will ultimately make the call as to whether you have made an impact, difference, what have you, or not. With the proper attitude, humility, and a desire-to-be-of-service mentality, you will very likely make a difference/impact in the lives of others. But remember, they will be the ones to decide whether this is the case or not. Not you!
This is the big challenge for anyone who goes anywhere, at any time, to be of service. Impact on someone else or something else is not an outcome over which you have any control. The most skilled volunteers in the world may generate ZERO impact, not because they are not great volunteers or highly skilled, but because they are not the individuals who determine such things.
But what you do have absolute control over is what kind of impact the experience will have on you. And this, if you ask me, is the most important aspect of VolunTourism. If you guarantee, through your personal efforts, that the experience has a real impact on you, then the mission is accomplished. You have done what was in your control, in your power, to do.
I have read and heard enough stories from individuals the world over who have, in varied responses, attested to this simple fact, regardless of the amount of time they have spent in a given service engagement. I, too, have discovered the truth of this assertion through my own voluntourism experiences.
|"All the buildings that you build, all the human beings that you assist in educating or putting a new heart in their chest, all the money that you spend on a homestay or purchasing handicrafts produced by local residents – as the wise ones will tell you, these things will all come tumbling down one day. They will pass from this earth as if they never were.
But what you do to change you, to truly impact you, such things have staying power that transcends time and space. When you come to realize this, your voluntourism experience will be like nothing you could have ever imagined. And you just might discover, that as a result of concentrating on making an impact on yourself, you have, in fact, created real impact in the life of someone else – be it a local resident, a fellow voluntourist, or a member of the staff who is coordinating your experience."
Where we run into difficulty, where we start losing control of the potential of generating real impact for ourselves, is arriving at the fork in the road and instead of selecting the “making a real impact on myself” we select the “making a real impact on others.” This is the grave error of all those who volunteer. You may “hope” to create real impact in the lives of others. You may “hope” to make a difference in the lives of others. But the wisdom of the ages tells us that there is only one person you can impact, one individual you can change for the long haul. That person is you.
So, when you read the text on a voluntourism, volunteer abroad, or volunteer travel website, wherever you see the terms ‘make a difference’ or ‘make an impact’ think to yourself: ‘Yes, I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that this experience changes my life, changes my perspective, changes my habits.’ Then, and only then, will you achieve the goal you started out with in the first place: For your voluntourism experience to make a real impact.
All the buildings that you build, all the human beings that you assist in educating or putting a new heart in their chest, all the money that you spend on a homestay or purchasing handicrafts produced by local residents – as the wise ones will tell you, these things will all come tumbling down one day. They will pass from this earth as if they never were.
But what you do to change you, to truly impact you, such things have staying power that transcends time and space. When you come to realize this, your voluntourism experience will be like nothing you could have ever imagined. And you just might discover, that as a result of concentrating on making an impact on yourself, you have, in fact, created real impact in the life of someone else – be it a local resident, a fellow voluntourist, or a member of the staff who is coordinating your experience.”
Voluntourism has one chance to make a real impact in this world and that is through the individual who participates in it. It is well-documented that travel has the potential to transform us. Likewise, service has the potential of moving us to a greater level of awareness of the interconnectedness of everyone and everything. The world is a large space in which we have little control. What we do have, in terms of control, however, is control over ourselves and what we do to change us. This is where voluntourism comes into the picture.
As voluntourists, we have a tremendous opportunity to venture forth into the world with an attitude of humility and a desire to impact the one individual we have the best chance of influencing to become a better person, a more well-rounded and informed individual. Let others focus on whether you make an impact for anyone or anything else. This should not be your concern. Focus your attention on the one thing you can control, make the effort to reflect on your experiences as a voluntourist, and take the things that you learn to heart so that you can remind yourself as you move through the part of the world that you call your home of how to be a better you. Then you can say, with utmost certainty, that your voluntourism experience has had a real impact!
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