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The Volunteer Spirit, Seen Across Cultures

The New York Times had an article about volunteer street cleanup in Pakistan.

“The youth of Pakistan wants to change things,” said Shahram Azhar, the lead singer for Laal, a Pakistani rock band, reflecting an attitude that is typical of this rebellious younger generation.

“The reason the Taliban is ruling Swat,” he said referring to a valley north of Islamabad where Islamic extremists took control this year, “is because they are organized. We need to organize, too.”

“The only answer to Pakistan’s problems,” he added, “is a broad-based people’s movement.”

It's always interesting to look at another culture's response to the seemingly universal problems of trash and class stratification. What would an article about a similar group in the US read like? The divide between rich and poor, the comments about socially interested young people having to be part of a required class project, the shy hope inspired by public demonstrations that they care... would these be as evident to American eyes watching a similar volunteer effort? As our country attempts to right itself after years of wrong thinking and wrongful policies, I suspect we are similarly poignant.

“We have to lead by example. To change it from inside,” one young activist claims. This reminds me of a wonderful post from Grist a few days ago. Billy Parish's Rethinking the rules of engagement is a reaction to a New Yorker article, “How David Beats Goliath: When Underdogs Break The Rules,” which claims that historically, a Goliath's superior number and arms don't always equal victory.

Parish draws a parallel between this idea and the odds of beating big business interests in the rapidly-looming shadow of climate change.

Here are his four principles for winning with an underdog strategy:


  1. Make it a battle of wills, not a battle of skills

  2. Empower people to think and act in real time

  3. Attack your opponent where they are weak

  4. Defy social convention (and be ready to do what is socially horrifying)

The president has often touted service as being an answer to our country's ills. It sounds like performing service isn't the only dimension of the action: it's also important to engage with the people who aren't convinced yet about the utility of volunteerism, the people like those in Pakistan who sparked a debate about class and political organization. Our country's Goliaths may be industry and all those who profit from status quo in the energy sector, but we may have something in common with young people living under the Taliban all the same.

Read the full post here.

Hat tip: everydaytrash

Tags: Activism, Asia, Culture, Pakistan, Service, Strategy, Student, Trash, Volunteer

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