Lazy blogger, me. June has swiftly flown past like the hawk I saw above Taughannock Falls a couple of weeks ago. (Well, the hawk kind of lingered a while and circled around, but I would have still liked to observe it longer.) But I’m happy that I haven’t needed to travel in June. I’ve finally had enough time and relatively spry feet to explore nearby places by bike.
As a result of settling down in Ithaca again, I’ve also really started to feel the itch for volunteer work. I feel the need to do something concrete and purposeful where I can see the results quickly. Donating blood used to be my lifeline in Finland – every 3-4 months I’d go and watch the blood flow out of my vein with a fascination that some might call morbid. (As a scientist, I think it’s perfectly natural to be interested in bodily fluids.) Since I’m denied that pleasure here in United States, being from Europe where everyone’s tainted with Creutzfeld-Jacob, I’m feeling the need to find some other real way to help. Research, while valuable in long-term (I hope), just doesn’t deliver fast enough.
I’m by no means unique with my need for purpose. According to Deci and Ryan’s Self-determination theory, purpose (or relatedness) is one of the three basic needs. The other two are autonomy and competence, out of which I currently have plenty of the first and less of the second one. Drive by Daniel H. Pink explains the theory in layman’s terms and gives lots of good ideas for companies that want to increase productivity – give more freedom and flexibility to employers, because intrinsic motivation is much more powerful (in creative tasks) than extrinsic. That should be obvious, but requires a new kind of a mindset. Pink also mentions that the amount of volunteer work is increasing, which indicates that people want to contribute, do good things and feel they’re doing something worthwhile.
So, you ask, what am I doing to fulfil my need for purpose? Well, not awfully much yet. Decided to bike 100 miles around Cayuga Lake in September to raise funds for AIDS prevention and support. Also started volunteering a small sliver of my time to Ithaca Health Alliance’s outreach and education program. And I sign every darn petition that I find that is about protecting basic human rights or preventing pollution. Those who are my Facebook friends may have noticed…
I do believe that the research we do can change the world for the better. But I think the focus should be more heavily on communities, families, social ties and social support, as well as figuring out what people really want. Plus, starting small, remembering that people need to be able to say: “this is my decision”, “I’m able to do this” and “this is meaningful”.