Choosing a passion

The world is filled with things to worry about: family, money, friends, work, life. And, more often the not, the news is depressing.  At times, I feel torn by all the things which I could be passionate about.  Al Gore has a point about global warming. The war in Iraq seems to be headed no where and each day more soldiers and citizens are killed without cause.  Too often, the Iraqi casualties aren’t even mentioned or thought about. Awful things happen each day; children are raped, domestic violence continues in many homes, people go without necessary medical care because they don’t qualify for benefits or can’t make it through the red tape. Queer people still can’t marry in America (or most of the rest of the world).

How easy is it to give up and just care about nothing? Or to pick your one pet topic and overlook the rest?

Obviously, although eclectic in my passions—few other topics get me as riled up as human trafficking. This is probably why I am making a career in the counter-trafficking field.  That said, it does lead to interesting commentary from people when I meet them in social settings and explain what I do.

The commentary also really differs as I move from country to country.  When I was working back in the states, most of the time I was met with shock.  Americans simply do not realize that each year at least 17,000 people are brought into America and live in abject slavery. Other Americans confuse the issue of human trafficking with illegal immigration.  Admittedly, the media is not doing a good job of explaining the difference and with all the talk about building a fence; I am not surprised people get confused. Victims of human trafficking come to the states both illegally and legally—everything is determined by the treatment they receive upon arrival.   

Here, in Cambodia, one cannot live and be paying attention to the world around them without realizing that human trafficking is a huge issue. In Khmer, the practice of trafficking on children is often simply referred to as renting. In a country where many people live on 50 cents a day, poverty can drive them towards traffickers and lack of education, understanding, or other options can make them more vulnerable.  When I meet people in a public setting, generally unless they are working in the counter-trafficking movement, they do not want to hear about my job. It is depressing. And, as we sit and sip our 3.00 drinks and eat our 5.00 meals, we don’t want to look at the poverty around us or how the dollars we spend might be pushing more Cambodians into the traffickers’ cycles. Here, what I do seems noble, seems like heading for burnout, seems like an uphill battle, seems nearly impossible—and so it is just easier, at times, to look the other way.



  1. That in a nutshell is why I would never choose to be a social-worker. You just keep hitting your head against walls of greed, indifference, and ignorance. I don’t know if the little impact I could have would make up for the continual stress of knowing that most people just don’t care. And realistically I dont think you should expect people to care and devote themselves to causes that don’t strike a personal tone with them. Most people are simply too self-involved…and are being taught to be more and more so by a profit-driven society.

    Which goes back to my theory of getting yourself right…figuring out what you are and what your relationship is to the world and living in it…not as a idealogogue but as a free, creative person unbeholden to any particular viewpoint or belief. Then living itself becomes your work and its effects are felt by all people who interact with you. Not very practical or verifiable is it?

  2. But, I don’t think this is a social work issue. I think anyone who is passionate runs into this. I also think the mere magnitude of the choice. There are so many things I could dedicate my life to, or my freetime to, or my money to; I know why I choose trafficking– I also know that even with the little money I have, there are other causes I support, even ones I have gotten up at 4am to go out and demonstrate for.

    I think the getting yourself right is important, but I don’t think it is a realistic goal for all. I think I have me right, but I still wish I had time to devote to 20 other things. Also, I think that the idea that we can’t make a difference and the apathy that is prevalent nowadays (based on a capitalist model or not) is a big part of the problem. I mean, if no one does anything, then nothing can change. And, you never know which voice is going to be the one to instigate true change. Look at the example of the mothers who demonstrated on Sunday afternoon in the Plaza de Mayo. Nobody took them seriously– not in the government at least– and they are credited with the change in history.

    If enough people run into a wall– it will fall down.

  3. Oh dear…that’s a horrible image. I guess I’m talking about human nature whereas you are talking about “social progress.” I want to know how the wall was built and prevent it…not keep having to run into it.

  4. I think human nature and social progress are intertwined. What is human nature if it is not taught and learned? How can we undo this learning? Isn’t the unlearning process often just another way of describing social progress?

  5. Sure they are intertwined but I dont think human nature is just taught and learned…I think that is why the “left” is always so frustrated…they keep trying to make people into angels and people keep acting like people…prejudiced, scared, violent, selfish.

    Some stuff we are just born with…we enter the world with a mind and body adapted to hunting and foraging in a small tribe. That basic component or our nature doesn’t leave by simple unlearning…it’s emotional, irrational, and superstitious…the better part of history has been the attempt to lessen that part of us through education in tolerance, diversity, human rights, freedom…

    Somehow it always seems to come back on top though…for example right now we have a ressurgence in Religious fanatacism, nationalism (tribalism), etc…

  6. Jason & Clare,
    My favorite theologian, Karl Rahner (I know not someone much on either of your reading lists) would insist that the most important decisions in life are not between good and evil— or as you are also noting between good and apathy. The really crucial thing is to discern between the many good things you could work on. This means recognizing as Clare suggests that no individual can accomplish it all. Or as you also add, Clare, perhaps we cannot even do one of them well. That is especially true if by “well” we mean bring down the wall ourselves. So Rahner following the Ignatian tradition would say then in deciding between these options for good you have to discern what of the many possibilities is the one to which your are specifically called. He would say you have to consider what skills or dispositions you have that might incline you in one direction or another. What experience or insights have you acquired or could you acquire that might enable you to make the world a little different. You have to keep in mind what you have the strength for. Some of us aren’t built for smashing ourselves into walls. On the other hand some people find—at least its moral equivalent—somewhat exhilarating. He would agree with you Clare that changing yourself and the world are intertwined. You cannot change one without changing the other. This sort of ongoing discernment, at least in the Jesuit ideal, is something we have to build into our lives to keep focused and avoid the despair or apathy which you both have identified as the inevitable temptation.

  7. I can go on about this one forever. It’s why I got into my career field and why I was a wrestler in school, a cop in the army, everything from a chemist and test engineer to an enivronmental and water enforcement inspector to a health and safety officer and now planning student. I want to develop the tools to make a change and make it count and make it right for everybody. While I believe Al Gore’s message, it lacks credibility with me for two reasons. First he miss cite statistics about CO2 emissions from the Hanson study, his oceanic chemistry was off and second he doesn’t believe in the fight; he just chose a cause and ran with it. That is evident by the way he lives and where his family made his money. It’s pretty bad, and it’s confirmed. While he buy’s the green light bulbs, and probably owns a fleet of hybrid cars, he misses the spirit of which is lifestyle changes. He’s about as green as money from the oil stock his family owns. I like the message, but resent his reasons. He is coming to speak at my campus on April 2nd. Do you know how much he is getting for that? $200,000. That’s a days income for what 400,000 people, probably more if you go global. Again, I love the message but I resent the fact that he profits off of it and speaks out against others who profit from oil when he himself has his whole life. If you want to know more on, just research Occidental Petroleum and Al Gore Sr. Guess who still gets a check from them today. $20,000/yr. I’m very conflicted with this, and I want to be wrong. My problem is that I dig too much.

  8. Bob, I think you make a very interesting point. For those of us with little to no theological education, is there anything in particular by Karl Rahner that you would recommend?

    I do think the process of discerning one’s own calling and role in the universe and in trying to make a difference is an exciting experience in itself. Especially if we are open to that role not always looking like how we think it “should.”

    For example, I realized 4 or 5 years ago that my calling in life is to help cause the safety, security, and recognition of gay and lesbian families. But it took a lot longer for me to realize that while sometimes that will look like traditional advocacy, every day, it will look like being the change I want to see in the world. When I was pregnant and when Noah was a new baby, I felt guilty that I wasn’t being much of an activist, until I realized that I was busy causing the safety, security, and recognition of my own family.

    The biggest challenge is staying focused. As Clare began by saying, there is a laundry list of issues that are important and moving, and where I could make a difference. But I think that difference will be greater if I can more-or-less stay focused.

  9. Thanks everyone for the comments. Its funny, I tend to write some of these posts without really knowing where I am going with them. They can be a free fall of thoughts from my brain, often muddled and meandering. But, they can raise interesting issues. I think for me, I agree with Liza on the staying focused thing, that this is what can cause change. But, if everyone has their issue and stays focused, then how do you get anyone else to care? I also understand the Rick jumping around model– I think it is what most people do. Finally, on the agreeing side of things, Dad, I like the point that by changing the world around us we change ourselves and by changing ourselves we change the world around us. That is very empowering.

    Rick, without putting out my opinions on Al Gore and his movement (political or otherwise), I think it is unfair to blame someone for their past (for example his family having wealth from oil money). It is more important to look at how he is living his life now. Is the person living up to the ideals that they preach? This is not to say I am for or against him– just that as a notion, I think we need to look at people’s presents more than their pasts, or their family inheritances.

  10. Liza,
    To be honest, my remarks had in mind as much Jesuit spirituality which I have gotten in large part indirectly from Rahner, more than Rahner himself. Some accessible sources for that suggested by Sr. Carol Ann Smith a colleague her at Marquette are:
    •Chapter on “Discernment” in Women At The Well: Feminist Perspectives on Spiritual Direction by Kathleen Fischer (Paulist).
    •”Discernment as a Way of Life” by Mary Frohlich, RSCJ in New Theology Review, August 2005.
    •Carol Ann’s own books co written with Gene Merz: Finding God In Each Moment, which just came out, and Moment By Moment

    If you are interested in Rahner from this angle I would suggest beginning with a secondary source. Harvey Egan’s Karl Rahner: Mystic of Everyday.
    Rahner is a notoriously difficult author. His academic writings (Theological Studies, 23 vols.) are very technical and focused on doctrinal and theological issues. There are good collections of interviews and more popular writings (e.g. I Remember, Karl Rahner in Dialogue, & Faith in a Wintry Season) but these primarily presume a Catholic audience and the inovations of his thought are not necessarily up front.

  11. Bob, I am so glad I asked rather than seeking help from “Dr Amazon” or another electronic source. 🙂

    Clare, I guess it depends on what you mean or want as an outcome by “care.” Here, the easiest example is environmentalism. You (by you, I mean “people”/environmentalists) really do need a whole lot of people to take some actions in this area, to make a difference. When more people recycle, or buy compact fluorescent lightbulbs, or use cloth diapers, or drive less, it makes a small but direct difference. Everyone doesn’t have to make radical lifestyle changes, or become professional environmentalists.

    For issues where you really do need people to become advocates, you still don’t need everyone to become the same kind of advocate. Working Assets telephone company is great at this — every month, in their phone bills, they include 2 “here’s who you should call on this issue and what you should tell them” blurbs.

    I think that figuring out how to make something like Working Assets actually function as a business as well as a way to make a difference must have been someone’s passionate focus, not necessarily any of the particular individual issues in which they’ve made an indirect difference. But without the passionate advocacy from various people, the mechanism would have nothing to deliver.

    That said, I also think that people’s foci change over time. They either evolve into working on different issues, or different aspects of an issue, or move from direct service to advocacy or fundraising. And all that time, they are communicating about their passions and ideas, and at some point, someone may hear them and be inspired to step into the same issue area.

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