Some days I feel like Britta Perry, a character on NBC’s sitcom “Community.”
An outspoken proponent of social justice, she often tries to persuade her community college study group to be more involved in addressing injustice in the world.
When her friends hold a demonstration highlighting an issue Britta shared with them, she gets upset and tells them they aren’t doing it the “right way.”
After her friends tell her that this is their way, not her way, of being involved, Britta realizes something.
She reads, writes and speaks about addressing injustice. She cares deeply about social justice and shares her knowledge with others in hopes that they will come to share her passion.
But she feels that she rarely does anything – or, at least not enough. She doesn’t volunteer enough time, organize enough events or give enough money.
She’s “just a student” right now, she laments, and isn’t as directly involved as she was previously.
Britta is a complex, conflicted character with whom I can identify because I, too, read, write and speak a lot about addressing injustice, and I hope to inspire others through my efforts.
But I also have self-critical moments when I feel that I don’t do anything – or, at least, not enough.
I’m not volunteering enough time, giving enough money or engaging in enough “hands-on” work. I’m “just a (fill in my current role)” right now.
When I shared these frustrations with my wife, she reminded me that there are many ways to work toward social justice and the common good.
Therefore, I should not denigrate the role I play in seeking to bring about positive change in the world.
While it is noble to volunteer time, give financially and engage in hands-on activities (and we should all do these things as we are able), my wife referenced Paul’s words to the church in Corinth to remind me that we cannot (and should not) try to do everything all the time.
“There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).
Paul continued by noting that feet should not try to be hands and ears should not try to be eyes because we have different gifts and callings that are all necessary for advancing the common good (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-31).
I am gifted, called, trained and experienced in some, but not all, things. And though I may be capable of doing many things, I only do certain things well.
Believing that I’m not doing anything worthwhile because I’m not doing everything is a sign of pride. It is like other parts of the body trying to be a nose, an eye or an ear.
Paul says it is evidence of sickness, not health, when parts of a family, organization, community or movement focus on or desire to fill the role of someone else.
So, why do I feel that I don’t do anything because I am not doing everything? Why do I believe that trying to do everything passably by myself is better than doing my role proficiently and trusting others to use their gifts to carry out their roles?
In his book, “The World is Not Ours to Save,” which he discussed in a Skype interview with Cliff Vaughn, media producer for EthicsDaily.com, Tyler Wigg-Stevenson addresses the tendency into which I frequently fall – namely, thinking I have to do and be everything.
Wigg-Stevenson writes, “Vocations have, and impart, boundaries. To be called to this means not being called to that, and vice versa. An acceptance of calling therefore means a curtailing of some possibilities for our lives.”
Or, as Paul put it, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).
The theme song to the television show “Scrubs” offered a similar perspective, saying: “I can’t do this all on my own. No, I know, I’m no Superman.”
When we make this our “theme song” by acknowledging that we need others who have unique gifts, strengths, roles, experiences and abilities we do not possess, we can stop trying to be all the parts of the “body” and start focusing on being the part we are uniquely gifted and called to be.
When we focus on what we do well and what we are called to do at this time, we will be able to see others with whom we can collaborate to advance the common good, instead of overlooking them in our distracted, harried efforts to try and accomplish everything ourselves.
Zach Dawes is the managing editor for EthicsDaily.com.