If you need a good, cathartic cry this morning, I highly, highly recommend Amy Poehler’s speech at Variety’s Power of Women 2013 awards, after being recognized for her work with Worldwide Orphans Foundation:
It’s a terrific speech not just because of Poehler’s invocation of the imperative to act because “There are so many children in the world who have nothing. They have nothing. They have no one who lights up when they walk into a room. And they have no clothes and safety and food. They have nothing. And so who are we to be in this room and to be living this life without helping them? That’s it. That’s the simple truth.” It’s one thing to grab heartstrings and yank, hard, in a way that’s effective but not treacly, a skill that’s harder than you might thing to pull off.
But Poehler does something else in this speech that I think is both genuinely important and great life advice. She argues that activism has been important to her because it’s been one of the things she’s found that’s best for “meeting like-minded people who become your travelers in life.” It makes sense that in exercising your values, which takes more work than simply professing them, you’ll be more likely to meet people who share your worldview, who have similar priorities about their time and money, and who need the same kinds of support for their choices that you do.
And Poehler goes further to argue that choosing to do good is also a way to choose to walk away from negative friendship dynamics. “As I get older, I realize that I am old,” she jokes in the speech. “But I also realize I don’t know very much and all I have is the present moment. And I want to be around people that do things. I don’t want to be around people any more about judge, or talk, or talk about what people do. I want to be around people who dream, and support, and do things.” It’s easy to talk about those kinds of principles for friendship in the abstract and then flail around when it comes to actually implementing them beyond the most basic interactions. Poehler’s argument is that working on behalf of something you care about that isn’t yourself, or that perhaps doesn’t even directly affect you, is a great way to find people who will help you realize those goals on a much larger scale, and in a much deeper way.
I hadn’t thought about it that way until watching Poehler’s speech, but I think there’s a real kernel of truth there. The best friends I have from college are the people who I worked with on campaigns to pass a Domestic Partnership registry in New Haven (it was 2003, how times have changed), who were my co-workers on city political campaigns, and who talked me into taking big risks to fight for financial aid reform in college. Those relationships are good in part because we couldn’t afford to let them get bad–you can’t prioritize petty slights, or let big issues between you go unaddressed when they might affect the work you’re doing. Prioritizing work can, paradoxically, make it easier to care for yourself without giving you the luxury of getting too self-absorbed.
Although a little self-absorption can be a good motivating tool. As Poehler put it, “People don’t talk enough about how good it feels to be of service. It really, selfishly makes you feel really good. It’s good for your people. We should tell more people that…You should do it because it makes you feel good.”