This was a useful phrase for me to hear at that moment. For the last few months I've been assessing the wall my own ladder leans against, so to speak. As a 37 year old white male software developer, I'm trying to account for the responsibility that comes with the socio-economic leverage I have in the world. Am I spending my privileges responsibly? How could I do more with my next 37 years?
These are questions without easy answers, but lead to other useful questions, I think. If I can use my skills to advance some ideological position in the world, why not work on that? What things should I be working on? How does what I actually am doing meaningfully address those specific problems.
Here is my recipe, written in the second-person, but not meant to be taken prescriptively.
- Pick your Most Important Topic. Work on that.
- Keep it local, find your leverage close to home.
- This will take some time, expect progress to be slow.
- Keep your day job.
- Work in the morning.
- Find people who share an interest in the things you do. Find ways to help each other.
- Show up, every time. Be punctual.
- Learn to say no sometimes, but be willing to risk a stretch when it seems worthwhile.
- Apply for funding, fellowships, etc. if only to write proposals that will clarify your thinking.
- Create opportunities for others; offer an apprenticeship, hold office hours, be generous with your time.
- Celebrate your minor victories, they will carry you forward.
- Raise hell. Have fun. Thank your parents. (Thanks, Molly Ivins.)
For my part, I am interested in the intersection of two topics that qualify to me as Most Important.
- Climate change: how can I write software that doesn't require tons of electricity, or the latest and greatest hardware? How can I make remote participation a viable alternative to expensive and carbon-intensive flights?
- Social inequality: what are ways to share what I know with those who haven't found the opportunities to become tech savvy? How can I be a better advocate for those with less socio-economic privileges?
Again, these are based on personal conviction, your own topics may vary greatly. Yours may sound more or less self-righteous, but for my part I am okay with embracing self-consciously righteous goals. It's not about guilt, or feeling superior, but being deliberate about what I do with my energy and productivity.