Idealists of the world, unite!
A better world is possible. We all know this in our hearts. So let’s build it.
My name is Ami Dar, I am the founder of Idealist.org, and I want to tell you a story. I want to share this because I suspect that in your own life you’ve faced similar situations. And if you have, I believe that together we can change the world. Starting right now.
I was born in Jerusalem, and raised mostly in Peru and in Mexico. When I was 15 my family moved back to Israel, and at 18 I was drafted into the Israeli army for three years of compulsory service. A year later, my unit was stationed on the Syrian border, and my job was to spend several hours each day alone on a watchtower, looking through a telescope across the barbed wire and the minefields, trying to spot any strange movements on the other side.
One afternoon — I remember it was a cool, beautiful winter day — I suddenly had a thought that made me laugh out loud. I laughed because the idea was childish but also true, in that way that children have of recognizing the truth.
A few months earlier, getting to know the guys in my unit, I’d realized gratefully that some of them would give me their last pair of dry socks if I ever needed them. But there were also a few who might steal mine if I wasn’t careful.
That image was on my mind that afternoon, when through the telescope I saw a group of Syrian soldiers playing a game of soccer across the valley that separated us. And instantly, something about the situation — that moment of play, their running around like kids — humanized them in my eyes in a way that was entirely new and fresh and different.
When you grow up in a conflict zone, or in any fragmented society, it’s natural for each side to dehumanize the other. But if that filter shatters, you can never go back. And the moment their full humanity struck me, I had that crazy thought that changed my life.
Wait a minute, wait a minute, I thought. If in my unit, and in every other unit I know, there are some guys I’d trust with my life, and others I’d rather stay away from, then in that unit this must also be the case. And if that’s true, then this whole border fence is running the wrong way. Instead of Syrians on one side and Israelis on the other, wouldn’t it make more sense for the sock-sharers on both sides to get together?
And that’s when I laughed. I laughed, yet this idea stayed with me, and still haunts me now. Since then I’ve learned that life is more complicated, and that the line between good and bad runs within each of us. And yet… I can’t help noticing that all over the world, behind every label and stereotype, there are people who share some basic values. And I can’t help thinking that if these people could somehow work together, the world would be a very different place.
What are these values? Treating others the way we’d like to be treated is a good start. But we can go beyond that. For example, I believe that in every country and every culture there are many people who would agree with this sentence:
“Working with others, in a spirit of generosity and mutual respect, I want to help build a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives.”
And more. I believe that many of these people would be happy to work together on the single biggest challenge we all share: closing the gap that exists everywhere between our good intentions and the actions we actually take.
If you are still with me, you know what I mean. Every day many of us would like to respond in some way to what’s happening around us, but for a variety of reasons we don’t. We may feel that we have no time, no resources, no power, or no impact. We may not know where to start, what to do, or who to work with. We may be afraid of failure, ridicule, meetings and committees, wasting our time, getting depressed.
This list could go on, but the point is that this challenge — or opportunity — is huge. Think how many times you’ve felt this way. Now multiply that by every person who’d recognize this feeling, and we are talking about millions of missed opportunities for action and collaboration every day.
Now imagine a different world.
Imagine if these people — the sock-sharers, the practical dreamers, the twenty people you’d take with you if you had to spend a couple of years on a desert island — imagine if these people had a name.
Why a name? Because words count, names matter. If you are a teacher from Peru and you meet another teacher from Peru, you only have to say two words — “teacher” and “Peru” — to convey a lifetime of shared experiences. And if you want to start a group for Peruvian teachers, you have the words to do it.
In our case the people are there, but the words are missing. You recognize these people when you meet them, but what do you call them? And if you can’t name them — if we can’t name ourselves — how can we connect?
So let’s take a name and make it our own. A name that would mean, “freedom and dignity, generosity and respect.” A one-word bridge that would allow us to connect across our differences and see how much we have in common, down the street and around the world.
Let’s simply call ourselves idealists.
And let’s own that name, and the values it stands for, as proudly and joyfully as we own every other part of our identity.
Then, like a group of starfish suddenly stretching their arms, let’s reach out and share the gift of knowing that we are not alone. With a name and a logo there are so many ways to do this, and we can try them all.
To start, let’s build a map where any person who shares these values can place a dot, and where we can all see this pool of hope growing in real time. Let’s see, with absolute clarity, that freedom and dignity are universal values. And let’s show that wherever you look, “those people” on the “other side” want and cherish the same things we do.
What do most of us want? Dignified work that supports a dignified life. Safe neighborhoods, good healthcare, a great education for all children, and a secure old age. Clean air and water, a loving community, and some beauty to feed our souls. And regardless of what party or ideology we may support, most of us want some basic freedoms, politicians who work for the common good, and laws that apply equally to every citizen.
But what about the details? With so many issues across so many cultures — from improving schools in one country to protecting forests in another — and with so many valid and creative ways to approach each problem, we’ll never be able to agree on a set of tactics and priorities that would appeal to all of us.
What we can do is agree on an overarching vision — a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives — and then unleash a wave of energy and creativity by building a network, a movement, a whole ecosystem of possibility, to help each other move from intention to action.
What would this look like?
To start, imagine us — you, me, and everyone who wants to join us — bringing to the table our skills, our thoughts, and our passion, and building something that will make us proud.
Imagine organizing monthly Idealist Days, on 3/3, 4/4, 5/5, etc., to spark and celebrate action and collaboration, and inviting everyone around us to do something, no matter how small, to make our corner of the world a bit better.
To plan and promote these days, and to share tips, obstacles and success stories, imagine starting Idealist Groups in cities and villages, schools and workplaces.
Imagine visiting another country, for a day or a year, and immediately finding your people — our people — wherever you go.
Imagine using every available tool — from mobile apps to a bulletin board on a village tree — to match needs, ideas, and opportunities with people, organizations, and resources.
Imagine if in addition to hotlines for emergencies we also had a hotline for projects and dreams.
Imagine reading the news and having an “Act” button that would let us do something about what we’d just read.
Imagine, in brief, that together we could narrow the gap between what is and what could be, between what we know in our hearts to be possible and the reality we see around us.
To move down this path, and to do it in a way that feels natural, methodical, and unstoppable, let’s plan a few months ahead.
First, and most importantly, please join us on this map. This will allow us to be in touch, and to hear from you as we move forward.
Then, starting this coming Sunday, 11/11, we’ll host a series of online conversations about this project, and it would be great if you could join us for one of them.
On Wednesday, 12/12, let’s see what we can do together by collecting food, toys, books, or clothing, and sharing it with those who need it most. In addition, at 12:00 noon that day (or at whatever time works best for you), let’s use our cameras to see and show that we are everywhere, and that we are as diverse and beautiful as humanity itself.
On 1/1 most of us will be resting or celebrating with our families, so instead of doing something outside, let’s think of one thing we want to do for our community next year, and share it as our #IdealistResolution.
At the same time, while doing all of the above, let’s start planning local gatherings of Idealist Groups for Saturday, 2/2, and invite everyone on our live map to join the nearest one.
For Sunday, 3/3, let’s invite the thousands of organizations on Idealist.org, plus any other groups you may know, to start participating in these monthly events by hosting open houses or organizing any activity they would like.
While inviting these organizations, let’s also work with teachers everywhere to create an activity for Thursday, 4/4, that would allow their students to imagine the world they would like to live in, and share their dreams with all of us.
Then, on Sunday, 5/5 — a warm time of the year in much of the world — let’s tie all these strands together by organizing a full day of events and activities, culminating at 5:00pm with a group photo at a local landmark to celebrate how far we’ve come, and to invite more people to join us the following month.
As we do all this and more, we’ll run into all kinds of challenges. Some of these will be tougher than others, but the thing about us humans is that once we commit to a big goal — in this case, closing the gap between intention and action — we are very good at figuring out how to get there.
Wherever you are you can make this happen, and together we can push the limits of what seems possible in our lives and in our communities.
How far? Let’s find out.