One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned over the years is that when you’re engaged in work and activities that feel right, you often find yourself connecting with exceptional people who bring a positive presence to the world.
As I wrote in my last post, on Wednesday I had the pleasure of addressing the annual awards banquet of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) in Washington, D.C. It was a great opportunity to share with fellow dinner attendees the work we have been doing in the states to advance the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill.
I was very fortunate to have at my table a group of dear friends, many of whom have been active in the workplace anti-bullying movement. After the dinner, several of us gathered at the podium for the picture above. It was a treat to spend the evening with these people.
Sometimes you find the right groove and good things start to materialize. Yeah, I know this sounds like metaphysical stuff that might be greeted with skepticism. But I’ve seen it happen with others, too, time and again. To amplify this point, let me share with you a slightly edited excerpt from my forthcoming law review article, “Intellectual Activism and the Practice of Public Interest Law” (forthcoming in the Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice):
Follow Your Bliss and Let One Thing Lead to Another
The late Joseph Campbell’s writings and lectures on mythology, faith traditions, and the world’s societies made him a singular authority on the human experience. He first appeared on the radar screens of many people via a PBS series of televised interviews with Bill Moyers — “The Power of Myth” — that premiered in 1988. Campbell’s most famous advice in one of those segments, now repeated on many occasions, was “follow your bliss.” He suggested that following our bliss can lead us to life paths in which opportunities and connections seem to materialize before us. In the PBS series, Campbell replied to a Moyers question about whether “hidden hands” guide and facilitate our work once we have found our path:
All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as the result of invisible hands coming all the time — namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open doors to you….
I realize that “follow your bliss” can morph easily into the most banal forms of encouragement. Joseph Campbell was not a superficial person, but his signature line is tailor made for every soon-to-be-forgotten commencement speech or career pep talk, of which there are many. Furthermore, not everyone has the opportunity to follow this advice. Especially for those who are struggling to put food on the table and to keep a roof over their heads, such beyond-survival aspirations may appear to be unrealistic and even unattainable. However, with a leap of faith, I will assume that many readers here are likely to be blessed with some degree of choice over the activities they pursue and are motivated to make a positive difference during their lives.
As Campbell suggests, following one’s bliss is not a static state of being; rather, it leads to connections and people. On this point I appeal to Drs. John Bilorusky and Cynthia Lawrence of the Western Institute for Social Research (WISR), a tiny, non-traditional university in Berkeley, California, devoted to social change and community engagement. They are fond of invoking the phrase, “one thing leads to another,” and they cite, as examples, WISR students whose learning projects, grounded in socially relevant topics of deep personal interest, have led them to connections and difference-making opportunities they may not have anticipated when they embarked on their work.
Practicing in an intellectual activist mode, I have experienced a connectivity that echoes both Campbell (“you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open doors to you”) and Bilorusky & Lawrence (“one thing leads to another”). It is a place where one’s networks, circles, and tribes feel right in terms of shared or compatible goals, and where one’s activities and values are largely congruent. Some may experience this coalescence earlier in life. For me, the pieces did not come together until my fifties. I am extraordinarily grateful that they eventually did.
One thing that wasn’t in sync at the ADA awards banquet was our technological know-how. I had hoped to post a video of my speech from Wednesday night, but unfortunately we had a glitch with the camera. Suffice it to say, however, that steady readers of this blog know most of what I had to say. I gave special attention to the progress that we’ve made in Massachusetts in moving the Healthy Workplace Bill through various committees in the legislature.
A big thank you to those who took out program ads to support me, including SEIU/NAGE Local 282 (Greg Sorozan, President), Workplace Bullying Institute (Drs. Gary & Ruth Namie), Denise Doherty & Brian McCrane, Suffolk University Law School, Gail Almeida, and Jessica Stensrud. I also appreciated the many individuals, unions, and ADA local chapters who bought ads honoring all of the night’s awardees.