What Sort Of Contribution Can You Make To Your Community?

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Thursday, 8.50pm

Sheffield, U.K.

You never know whether the subject matter will click with the audience at that particular time. I wish there was a formula, you know, ‘That plus that equals success.’ – Michelle Yeoh

One of the words you learn when you go back to university is the word “contingent”. Contingent means something that depends on something else – the success or failure of an approach depends on what else is going on and the situation in which you happen to find yourself. This is a useful word to keep in mind when you try and reach for a simple answer to a complex situation. It’s possible that your simple answer will work if the situation is the right one for it. But what’s more likely is that you have to figure out what your situation is first and then the possibilities for what you can do start to present themselves.

Perhaps the most useful application of this word is to help us realise that what we can do depends on what is around us, the resources we have and the skills and capabilities we possess. And even if we have everything we also need a little bit of luck. We can’t control the luck but we can work on everything else.

The challenge we face, however, is getting the balance right between the elements we’re trying to master. I was reading a book called “Webcomics” and one of the artists, Shaenon K. Garrity talked about her “journeyman piece” called Narbonic. In 2004, this was supposed to be a six year project and it ran from 2000 to 2006. The point of the Webcomics book was to share the process that the artists featured had found effective in doing their own work – but there’s no suggestion that there is any perfect kind of work. What you can’t get away from, unfortunately, is the actual work of doing the work.

It’s obvious, isn’t it? If you want to get better at writing, you have to write. At drawing? You have to draw. At coming up with scripts? You have to come up with ideas. They are going to be bad in the beginning but as long as you keep going you’ll get better and that’s the only fact there is. You won’t get better thinking about it or reading about it or hoping something is going to happen. You have to get on and do the work day after day and eventually, you’ll find it starts to become easier. Perhaps it even gets better. And one day, maybe it’s useful to other people and that’s really when you’ve discovered a way to contribute that works for you.

This whole question bothers me, I think, because surely the point of living is to find some way to be useful, to help, to contribute, to do something good. We know that taking and having don’t really lead to happiness. We don’t need that much, really, and the more we have the more we need, and faster, to feel the way we did the first time. We’ve just gone past a holiday season and I remember, really quite vividly, the very first Christmas we had with our one-year old. He opened his first present and was totally delighted by it. He wanted to play with it straight away. And he was surprised when he was given another one to open. By the end of the pile, however, he had learned that more turn up and the next day we wrapped them up in newspaper so he could open them again. And the year after that, well, things kept being opened but that wide-eyed wonder and delight of that very first present – a Postman Pat red van – never really happened again. Not in the same way.

For me, anyway, I think happiness comes from doing something, learning something, creating something. And, if possible, doing that every day. And even if it’s really bad and you want to apologise for the poor quality of your work you have to do it – you need to just sit down or stand up or do whatever you need to do to get another day’s work done.

And I think I should point out that when I talk about work I don’t mean your job – what you are paid to do. I think your work is what you want to do, what you would do every day whether you were paid or not, whether there was any reward or not. And if you don’t have work to do like that, then it would be a wise move to take some time and find that thing. Because there is a very good chance that it’s what your society and community need most from you.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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