I’m a firm believer that our hopes and our destinies depend on ordinary citizens. Sure, we live in a world that celebrates the expert, but in my view, what’s really missing is the participation of millions more regular folks. If we have any hope of solving the most pressing issues facing our world today, we need to turn to us amateurs.

Lucky for us, people are actually wired to help others. We are animated by an empathic impulse that is innate.

We see this every time there is a major disaster. People come to the aid of their neighbors in an organic, immediate and powerful way. You’ll recall that during Atlanta’s Icepocalypse last year, everyday Atlantans did whatever it took to help others. Long after the traffic (finally) let up and the ice melted, that sense of community remained.

I have certainly seen this in my own volunteer work. When others are threatened, we are awakened to our solidarity, to our desire to be of service and to our capacity to help.

There’s science behind this. Dacher Keltner, a psychologist and author of Born to Be Good is looking into how the human capacity to care and cooperate is wired into particular regions of the brain and nervous system.

The great religions have long affirmed our interdependence and the primacy of service. The idea of our being brothers and sisters with obligations to one another and the world, is an underlying foundation of our major faith traditions.

In my late twenties, I completed a Kellogg Foundation fellowship that allowed me to travel the world for three years studying the connection between faith and social change.

I travelled to South Africa just after the fall of apartheid and I learned about Ubuntu. It means: “I am because you are.” In other words, the essence of being human is in our interconnectedness. The welfare of each of us is fundamentally dependent on the welfare of all of us.

Our challenge is to harness that innate empathy and remind ourselves daily of its existence. Only then, can we live the life of service we were meant to live.

This blog was adapted from a speech Michelle Nunn gave entitled “Putting People at the Center of Change.”


Michelle Nunn
President and CEO of CARE USA

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