Idealists of the world unite
A better world is possible. We all know this in our hearts. So how do we get there?
My name is Ami Dar, I am the founder of Idealist.org, and I want to tell you a story. This happened a long time ago, but it led me to start Idealist and it still drives me every day. 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 eight hours a 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 those 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 could easily connect across all the lines that divide us.
Imagine us — you, me, and everyone who wants to join us — doing whatever it takes to make it easier for people everywhere to move from intention to action.
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 reading the news and having an “Act” button that would let us do something about what we’d just read.
Imagine if in addition to hotlines for emergencies we also had a hotline for projects and dreams.
Imagine, wherever you are, that once a month, on 7/7, 8/8, 9/9, etc., we made it okay, and more than okay, to spark and celebrate action and possibility, freedom and dignity.
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.
We can do all this, and we can do it now. We just need to start. Are you game?
If so, here’s what we can do in the next couple of months:
1. Enrich this invitation with your comments, questions, and ideas. How does this sound from your corner of the world? What questions and ideas come to mind? We are having this conversation on Facebook right now and we’d love to know what you think.
2. Show that freedom and dignity, generosity and respect, are rooted in every culture and religion, and that none of this is foreign to any of us. If there is a quote, a verse, or a work of art from your culture that you love and that represents these values, please share it here.
3. Start reaching out to everyone who identifies with these values and wants to act on them, and invite them to join us on this journey.
4. Come out and see each other. Seeing online that we are everywhere will be wonderful, but seeing it for real, in person, will be much more powerful.
Then, once we achieve some critical mass:
5. Organize the first Idealist Day on 7/7, and again every month after that.
6. Start Idealist Groups in towns, villages, schools, and workplaces to promote and facilitate action and collaboration in every possible way.
7. Find out what each of us cares about, what we bring to the table, and most importantly, what’s stopping us from taking action. Focus on these obstacles — and on how together we can overcome them — because while the problems we face are local and specific and infinitely varied, these all-too-human obstacles are common to all of us.
And then, over this coming year and into the future:
8. Make action much more accessible by offering people the widest possible range of opportunities, from things we can do in a few seconds on our phones, to a year or two volunteering anywhere in the world.
9. Help all of us imagine, connect, and act by gathering and spreading ideas and solutions that have worked in different places.
10. Continue building a whole ecosystem of possibility — that Act Button, that hotline, a mobile app with all the obvious features — so that no opportunity for action or collaboration is missed or wasted
As we do all this, 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 share a thought or a moment, and together we can push the limits of what seems possible in our lives and in our communities. How far? Let’s find out.