After studying the actions of rescuers during genocide, Ervin Staub wrote: “Goodness, like evil, often begins in small steps. Heroes evolve; they aren’t born.”1
Which stories in this chapter show the progression of “goodness” that Staub describes? If goodness does indeed begin in small steps, what might that mean for the choices we make on a daily basis, even when we are not in the midst of a crisis?
How do you define a hero? Do any of the stories in this chapter describe heroes?
Eleanor Roosevelt said that the ideals set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “carry no weight unless the people know them, unless the people understand them, unless the people demand that they be lived”2
(see reading, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Chapter 11). In what ways were the ideals listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights brought to life by some of the individuals and groups featured in this chapter? How did these individuals or groups make those ideals “carry weight”?
In the reading Not Just Awareness, But Action, President Barack Obama says, "You have to go through life with more than just passion for change; you need a strategy." What different strategies do the people you learned about in this chapter use to bring about the changes they want to see in their communities? Which strategies involve governments and other powerful institutions? Which ones instead work around those institutions? Which strategies involve changing laws? Which involve changing attitudes and social customs? Which strategies were most effective? Which were most inspiring?
Civic participation increasingly takes place online. Danielle Allen, a political theorist who studies young people’s civic participation, suggests that when people choose to take action online to strengthen their communities, they should consider ten important questions. She and her colleagues write: “Whether you’re creating your first Facebook page to support a cause you care about, or seeking to engage your friends, associates, and even strangers in a new platform aimed to achieve civic ends, these ten questions will help frame your decisions. Use them to shape your strategy and to check whether you’re doing everything in your power to achieve maximum impact.”3
The questions are:
Why does it matter to me?
How much[about myself] should I share?
How do I make it about more than myself?
Where do we start?
How can we make it easy and engaging?
How do [we] get wisdom from crowds?
How do [we] handle the downside of crowds?
Does raising voices count as [civic and] political action?
How do we get from voice to change?
How can we find allies?
What examples did you find in this chapter of people using the internet in their attempts to bring about change? How might they have answered Allen’s questions?
What do these questions suggest about the potential opportunities and difficulties in using the internet to make positive change? Do you think these questions would be helpful even if one’s plan of action does not involve the internet?
Think about a positive change that you would like to see in your community, and then use these questions to begin to sketch out a plan to make that change happen.
What does choosing to participate mean to you? In what ways might you participate in the communities around you?