Response and Ability

by Dawn Brown

Response and Ability

If you’ve read my blog through the years, 13 blogging years to be exact, you may remember me telling you about Wardrobe Wearabouts, #nerdalert.  Don’t you love the alliteration and the punny spelling?  Wardrobe Wearabouts was an invention of mine in high school.  It all started at the North Park Mall in Marion.  You must harken back to a time when this was a bustling mall full of stores; a true destination for locals to walk, talk, shop, and eat.  It was that very mall where ‘it’ happened.   ‘It’ was unacceptable. ‘It’ was uncalled for.  ‘It’ was about to go down.  ‘It’ was seeing my sister’s best friend wearing MY sweater. (Oh, the horror.  It was a simpler time back then, what can I say?)  I veered down the corridor and vividly remember feeling the blood rushing up my neck like a thermometer in the summertime.  And, I also remember this—knowing that I would do something so ‘it’ never happened again.  As a young teen, I didn’t even like the idea of sharing clothes with my sister, but Mom said we had to.  So, I had to take matters into my own hands, found the loophole, and solved the problem myself—I created a Dewey Decimal System for my clothes.  And, that’s how Wardrobe Wearabouts was born.

A guy named Richard Pimentel learned a similar lesson while in the military.  Preparing to embark on a dangerous mission to save other troops, his leader, Sargent Parker, said, “We have to do this. It’s our responsibility.  You know what responsibility is Richard?  It’s a word made of two words:  Response and Ability.”  He points out that it’s not what someone puts on you to do, your lengthy job description, or even a legal agreement that you sign.  To me, this is significant.  Remarkable even.  This can determine not only how we act, but if we should act or not.  He specifically asks, and we can ask ourselves, “Given our abilities, what then will our response be?” My mind just exploded a bit.  That’s an amazing way to look at all problems.  You don’t have to have all the answers, you just have to agree to wake up and use the skills, talents, gifts, and abilities you have each and every day.  Seems manageable, doesn’t it. That day, Richard, Sargent Parker, and four other soldiers got up and used their abilities to protect their fellow soldiers from the enemy, so they could safely return to their basecamp then, eventually, home to their families. That’s responsibility.

I recently saw this post on Facebook, a quote from one of my faves, Albert Einstein, “Stay away from negative people.  They have a Problem for every Solution.”  This strategy flips that ugly scenario inside out.  Instead, we can begin to look at problems like you look at your hand.  The hand is a pretty amazing tool that we use daily.  Pinky swears for pinky fingers, wedding rings go on the ring finger, and pointing for the index finger.  Don’t even get me started on the opposable thumb.  I mean come on, that’s incredible, am I right?  Every finger has an independent job, an ability, if you will.  But, the true beauty is when the entire hand works together, in unison, to help a friend, write a grant, build a house, plant a garden, or make a donation.

The thing about problems is that everyone has them.  The thing about solutions is that we may or may not have a responsibility to help solve the problem.  Once a problem is identified, you should ask yourself, “What ability do I have?”  Then, ask the bigger question, “What will be my response to that ability?”

There’s obviously a life lesson to be learned here, but there’s also a philanthropic lesson.  Time, talent, and treasure are three ways we can all give.  Although we all have varied amounts of each, the important thing is that we give them all intentionally.  Only you know your values, life experiences, interests, and desire to help your community thrive.  So, where do these values, experiences, interests, and desires line up with the problems (read: opportunities) that Grant County has?  To steal a sports metaphor, that’s your philanthropic sweet spot.

The idea was simple enough.  First, I had to sort all my clothes and hang them systematically on the left side of our shared closet.  Then, just like a library book, if she wanted to wear something of mine, she had to check it out, literally.  I had pens and papers and pockets—I was the linen librarian. My sister was about to get organized, as if it was my superpower. If she chose to wear my clothes, she’d have to take a paper from the pocket, write down the name of the item, the day she took it, where she was wearing it, and the date she’d check it back in after it was clean once more.  This way I would at least know the whereabouts of my wardrobe at all times.  My response to the problem was to look at my abilities.  At that time, I didn’t have the power to demand that she not wear my clothes—my mom had bought them, after all.  But, I did have the ability to organize.  So, I organized a solution to my problem.

Find your sweet spot, as Robert Fulghum says, And you can build a school, a nation, or a whole world.” It’s true because you’re being intentional via two simple words:  Response and Ability.  If you have the ability to start an endowment that will help children in poverty now and for many years to come, what will your response be?  If you have the ability to grow fresh vegetables in your garden each year, what will your response be when the local Marion Community Garden’s Association needs help providing fresh produce to families who can’t afford it?  If you have the ability to do anything to be a part of the solution, then your response should be to do that something like it’s your job hobby.

Adulting is hard.  We have to pay bills, get our oil changed, cook, clean, and carpool.  It’s not always fun, but it’s a part of life.  But, philanthropy…philanthropy should be fun!  It should be our intentional response to change our small part of the world in the way that best fits what we can easily do.  It just so happens that I can organize…and apparently tell incredibly embarrassing stories about myself just to make a point that I think the world needs to hear.  It just goes to show, if I can do ‘it’, you can do ‘it’.