Why get involved in trying to solve problems in your community or beyond? Why spend all that time and perhaps risk criticism, conflict and failure?
The organization I work with—the Giraffe Heroes Project—honors people who stick their necks out for the common good. These “Giraffe Heroes” are men and women, young and old, from every ethnic and economic background, tackling every kind of public problem you can think of. As part of our work, we try learn as much as we can about what makes these remarkable people tick so we can share it with others.
The first question we ask them is about their motivation. Why do they do what they do? What provides the power, the commitment, the vision and the passion that keeps them going when the days are long and the work is hard?
This question of motivation is important, not just for Giraffes, but for you, for anybody, who wants to make a difference. When you’re motivated, you do your best work. When you’re not—you get something less.
Some Giraffe Heroes use religious language to describe their motivation but most don’t. The more you talk to them the clearer it gets that Giraffe Heroes are motivated to help solve public problems by a strong feeling that what they’re doing is meaningful to them—that is, that it satisfies a personal sense of purpose at the core of their beings—and then letting that deep conviction drive them forward. It’s this motivation—based on meaning—that makes Giraffes Heroes so effective in solving problems—and so inspiring to people who hear their stories.
Of course it isn't just Giraffe Heroes who are motivated by a personal sense of meaning. Philosophers and spiritual leaders have been telling us for millennia that there’s no deeper human need and no more powerful yearning than to live a life we know is meaningful. We all want to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and know that what we’re doing counts, that we're not just marking time.
Look to your own experience. Isn’t it true that the more meaning there is in the things you the more alive you feel? You may work very hard and there may be trials, but when you’re doing something you know is meaningful to you, there's also energy, a sense of excitement, a deep satisfaction of being in the right place at the right time.
You’re inspiring to others, and they're attracted to join you, to follow your lead. You’re much more likely to get the results you want.
If meaning is this important, it’s fair to ask—where does meaning come from?
We ask Giraffe Heroes. Their answer, almost universally, is that the most stable, long-term source of meaning in their lives is service—helping solve public problems, making life better for other people. Time after time after time we see and hear this: it’s the personal meaning they find in service that motivates and sustains Giraffe Heroes to do difficult things and succeed.
Giraffe Hero Sarri Gilman, for example, stuck her neck out to provide safe shelter for abused and runaway teenagers in Everett, Washington State, USA. Muhammad Yunus, a banker in Bangladesh, created a global model for creating economic self-sufficiency among the poor. Craig Keilburger, a teen in Toronto, Canada started an international program to stop the practice of child slave labor in some parts of the world. Giraffes like Gilman, Yunus and Keilburger saw a task that meant a great deal to them and they took it on. They all found meaning in their lives by being of service.
It is or will be the same for you. Get involved because you’ll help solve a public problem that’s important to you. Get involved to make life better for other people. But also do it for you. Get involved because service is the surest path to a meaningful life. Find a way to serve and it will add to your personal excitement, power and clarity of purpose. You’ll know that what you’re doing matters.
Photo credit: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/130300