Last weekend I watched one of the best documentaries and/or sports movies I’ve seen in a very long time. “Undefeated”, is a documentary that follows the 2009 Manassas High School Football team on their journey to win their first playoff game in school history. Manassas High School isn’t one of those football powerhouse schools that churns out D1 athletes despite their low income surroundings. Those schools are actually one in a thousand. Manassas was, for years, a better representation of the majority of inner city high schools. A place where winning neither occurs on the field or off, because both society and the students have stopped caring. In order to turn Manassas around, it took much more than just a bake sale or financial endowment. It took the 6 year commitment of a local business man, Coach Bill Courtney, combined with the efforts of an entire community to make a momentum shift from negative to positive. It’s for this reason the movie really has very little to do with football. It’s really about how, through perseverance, love and force of will, over time, anything and anyone can change.
Notice how “money” didn’t make that list of required inputs. It’s not because money isn’t important or even needed, but it isn’t REQUIRED.
The reason I’m writing this post isn’t to give a movie review, but to discuss the difference between wanting to make an impact, and making an impact. Money is useful and necessary to almost all causes. Money can help pay for equipment, or schools, or technology, but it can’t change the way people think or feel. One of the biggest problems we have in our inner cities, is that the majority of kids don’t believe that anyone really cares. Most feel like “their parents, their teachers, and/or society at large, don’t care whether they succeed or not. So why try?” I don’t care if you agree with why they feel that way, the fact is they do. That perception that no one cares leads to all kinds of self-belief and motivational problems. While a lot of people acknoweldge this problem, and “want” to help, most often they just give money and “hope” for change. The problem is that trying to buy their motivation just doesn’t work. It doesn’t teach them to believe they can earn things for themselves or that they are capable of contributing to society or their own success. More importantly, it doesn’t really teach them that anyone really cares about them. The only way to change the way to really change the way someone thinks and/or feels is through physical engagement. You need to not just tell them they are wrong, but rather, slowly and consistently over time, prove them they are wrong. You do that by giving time over money.
This isn’t an approach or a message that’s focused just on the inner cities kids, it applies to all causes that are important to us. Want to give a dying kid a chance at their dream? Yes giving to Make a Wish Foundation is an amazing way to help, but actually just going in and spending time with sick children or working with the charity is even more impactful. Giving your time does something that money can’t, it impacts people emotionally. It makes them feel like they aren’t in things alone. You know what else? It impacts you emotionally. Giving time to a charity or a charitable ideal changes you. It makes any situation or problem so much more human and real. The human connection is so important and powerful, and I’m sorry but money just can’t buy that.
I’m completely aware that the statement of “stop giving money to charity” is complete hyperbole. Funds are needed, across the board, to help every cause. However, my point is that money is like an anesthetic more than a cure. It helps improve situations, but it doesn’t solve any problems. People do. While we all make the excuse that we “don’t have any time.” That’s complete bullshit. We all have time. How many Saturday’s have we all spent doing absolutely nothing, let alone how many we’ve spent just pissing away our money on brunch and booze. We have time, we just have to prioritize a little bit of it on a regular basis. Give an hour a month, or a day a year, to really getting involved at some human level. At the end of the day, it really is the difference between wanting to make an impact and actually making one.
I challenge everyone this summer to find one initiative that is important to you and commit to giving one day of your time to it. I promise you, it won’t just make an impact on the initiative, it’ll make an impact on you.
One small sub-thought. The ineffectiveness of throwing money at a problem can be seen in the handling of the ever growing number of middle and upper middle class kids with psychological and depression issues. Let’s, for the moment, not discuss the rationale for why these kids are depressed, but just accept that the statistics show they are and at an alarmingly increasing rate. Having been one of these kids myself, I know for a fact, there is no amount of money or gifts that truly changes the way you feel or think. Therapy can help a bit, but even kids know that therapists are paid support systems. At the end of the day, the thing most of these depressed middle class kids need is the actual love and attention of parents and friends. They need to be taught to believe in themselves, and that they are more than just another possession in their parents 4 bedroom home. If these educated and privileged kids need improved support systems and constant reminding of their self-worth, what makes us think that just sending some computers to a school in the Bronx is going to make a paradigm shift in the way those underprivileged and often lesser educated kids think or feel?