3 Questions to Move from Helplessness to Action in Troubled Times

3 Questions to Move from Helplessness to Action in Troubled Times

Thank you to Hildy Gottlieb, of Creating the Future, for this important message. Originally posted July 10, 2016 on LinkedIn. Republished with permission from the author.

There comes a time for many of us when we stop thinking, “Somebody should do something about that!” Instead, we find ourselves saying, “I want to do something about that.”

Unfortunately, when that “action” thought strikes, the next thought is frequently, “I don’t even know where to begin!”

To ensure we’re not thwarted in our desire to make a difference, the following sets of questions can lead you to confidently go forth and make a difference for our world.

Question 1: What positive result do I want?

This first set of questions will help you focus on what you are most passionate about.

The Difference You Want to Make

What do you want the result of your actions to be? What do you want to be different / better because of what you’ve done? And importantly, better for whom?

  • Is your desired result that people with perceived differences are talking together and learning from each other?
  • Is it that laws or policies change, and if so, laws / policies about what, affecting whom?
  • Or maybe that people everywhere are simply kind to each other, acting from a place of love?
  •  Or…?

Keep asking that question until you get clarity. Aside from feeling good because you’ve taken action, what do you want the result of your actions to be?

Creating More Sweeping Change

For some people, that first question provides the answer they’re seeking. There are others, however, who want to create more sweeping change. If that is you, look at the answers you’ve come up with so far, that resonate with you the most.

If your desired results came to pass, what would be different, and for whom? 
And then what would THOSE results make possible?
And so on.

For example, if black families no longer had to teach their children how to stay alive if they are stopped for a missing tail-light, what would that make possible for a whole generation of kids? For their families? For their communities? And then what might that make possible? And so on.


Looking at your list, which items are you most excited about? Which would you skip work for without pay; get up an hour early to help with; pay a sitter to watch the kids for?

It doesn’t have to be specific. It can be as general as “I just want people to be kind to each other.” Whatever you come up with that resonates with you, that’s the answer for YOU.

Question 2: Who else cares about this?

None of us can change the world on our own. For whichever issue(s) you chose, ask yourself: Who else cares about this?

It could be a faith group, or a community organization. It could be a professor at a local university, or someone you read about in the paper. It could be your book club, your PTA, a coworker, or your kid’s teacher.

What kinds of individuals or groups care about the same thing you care about? And from those categories, who do you already know?

And voila! You now have a first action you can take: Have a conversation with those people!

You don’t have to be clear about the larger actions you want to take. Just have real, honest conversations with people who care about what you care about. “I noticed you talking at the PTA meeting about racism on the playground. I want to do something about that, but I have no idea where to even start. Can we have coffee?”

Or perhaps you’ve read in the local paper that the Mayor is starting a task force to craft policies on the use of force by the police. Who is named in that article? If you don’t know those individuals personally, call their office and say it plain: “I want to help. Who should I talk to?”

We so often fear we won’t be taken seriously because we’re “nobody.” In reality, the worst that can happen if you reach out is that no one will call you back, in which case you’ll be right where you are now.

And the best that could happen? The sky is the limit.

So find your peeps and start having conversations, listening to learn and understand.Who else cares about what you care about?

Question 3: What Gifts and Strengths Do I Have to Share?

Once you have a sense of what results you want to create, and who you might connect with to make that happen, this last question is about sharing who you are. We’re always being asked to share what we have – our money, our stuff, our time. This is instead about sharing who you are at the core.

What are the gifts you bring to the world?

These times of fear and uncertainty are not a time for hiding your light under a bushel. These times call for letting that light shine.

  • What are you good at?
  • What do you love doing?
  • What do you wish someone would ask you to do?
  • What do you want to get better at doing, and would love the opportunity to practice?

If it is hard for you to identify your own strengths, what do others say you’re good at? What do others love about you?

Whether you are a great cook, a talented fundraiser, an knowledgeable football enthusiast or someone who balances the family checkbook to the penny every month, you have gifts that can be activated to further a cause you care about.

* * *

With these three sets of questions, anyone can take action to create a more humane future for our world. And there is not a moment to lose. The world needs each of us to bring our best, to let our light shine, right now.

* These three questions are at the heart of Catalytic Thinking, a set of practices that make positive results possible and repeatable. To learn more about Catalytic Thinking, head here.


Just Keep Thinking…

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about Lebanon. Of course, that’s probably because I just told people that I took a week’s vacation there. There’s something about an exotic locale that piques people’s curiosity.

The conversation often goes something like this:

How was the trip?  Did you have a great time?

Kadisha Valley, Lebanon

Kadisha Valley at Sunset, Bcharre, Lebanon

Yes!  It was fabulous!  We were visiting our daughter, and she took us to some of the most beautiful sites we’ve ever been. Did you know that Lebanon has the world’s largest and best preserved Roman temples ? And the city of Byblos is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world? At sunset, the mist seems to pour into the Kadisha Valley, making it appear like Brigadoon.

Really? I didn’t know!

And of course, how could they know? The news from Lebanon is all about how the wars in the neighboring countries are affecting this land the size of Connecticut on the edge of the Mediterranean.  Our newspapers are filled with stories about Syria and Israel.  Many stories of Syrian unrest are given a Beirut byline because reporters are filing from the safety of Lebanon.

Then I tell them that Lebanon is a country of beautiful, gracious people, living in a lovely land, and struggling under the burden of being on the edge of war-torn countries that use Lebanon as a proxy battleground. Their population of 4 million citizens now carry the weight of an additional 1 million refugees.

Students dancing in Byblos, Lebanon

Students Dancing, Byblos, Lebanon

The government and humanitarian organizations are working hard; the refugees are evident on the streets and in camps. The ordinary citizens go to work, come home, live their lives; young people attend school, go to clubs, dance and party.  They fight incredible traffic and pollution, and stay out of unsafe areas. Life goes on, but progress is not made.

As someone who makes a living helping nonprofit agencies as they develop a vision, craft a path to achieving that vision, and execute that path toward the vision, I am at a loss at how to process the burden this country is under.

I had hoped to find some lesson from the trip to bring back, that would be an appropriate topic for a blog post about governance, nonprofits, strategic planning, leadership.

Instead, I think the lesson is that sometimes, you just have to keep on thinking.

Have some thoughts to share on this subject?  Get in touch with me at sdetwiler@detwiler.com.