No matter how long your to-do list may be, there is someone with an even longer one: “Somebody.” With the amount of work waiting for him or her, I don’t blame “Somebody” for hiding.
Whenever there is a problem, many people want Somebody to do something about it. Somebody needs to heal the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, help the farmers, educate even the uninterested, pay $15 an hour to all, etc. Somebody never quite does assigned tasks. Unlike Big Foot getting spotted walking around lakes and forests, there aren’t any grainy photos of Somebody slacking off.
While Somebody is the would-be-fix-it-all-savior, there is a different figure causing trouble: “Society.” Whereas Somebody usually needs to do something, society gets blamed for causing trouble.
Society allows bad things to happen and doesn’t care; Somebody gets called to fix Society’s problems. I am starting to suspect this is a tag-team, like an arsonist partnering with a fire-fighter.
As part of Society, you are also to blame. You can’t say you were taking a nap or working overtime when Society caused climate change, homelessness or got teenage girls pregnant. You are guilty ― and Somebody needs to do something about that, too.
A collection of Somebodies called on to fix problems are politicians, although the government’s track record at solving problems is spotty, at best. Entrepreneurs who solve problems never quite live up to the dreamy Somebody who will one day cheerfully fix things for free.
I even occasionally get identified as somebody who can fix problems, but it is usually by people who, after praising what I do, will suggest I am still not doing enough.
For example, when South Koreans learn about my project connecting North Korean refugees with volunteer English tutors, I am often asked why I don’t provide similar opportunities for South Koreans. I am getting kinder and gentler as I age, so I’ve stopped telling such questioners that I’m not stopping them from doing what they’ve asked. Instead, I give them suggestions based on my own experience.
First, I recommend that they join the volunteer group Korea International Volunteers. It was founded by James Kim, I was the founding assistant organizer. He’s one of those good guys who always puts aside time to help others in need, such as organizing volunteers to serve hot meals to homeless people and to tutor low-income children at orphanages and community centers in South Korea. That’s a great starting point for getting involved.
Second, I tell them about HOPE (Helping Others Prosper Through English). Edward M. Robinson is the V.P. of Operations/Project Director, I’m the International Adviser. HOPE offers free tutoring for low-income children and also arranges special events. If you are looking for someone to host a Christmas, birthday or Halloween party, then contact Eddie, he was a professional party planner in the USA and has hosted some great events for children here in South Korea. HOPE is always seeking volunteers and donors, so it is possible to help build up a local organization providing free tutoring for South Korean youngsters.
Then, the big finale: I surprise questioners by informing them that my volunteer Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) project already includes South Koreans. The focus of TNKR is on the more than 150 North Korean refugees who have come through the project so far, but we have also connected almost 20 South Koreans (who work at North Korean related NGOs or volunteer in some other way) with free English tutors.
I suppose that I should take it as a compliment that people gently complain at me, for a few reasons. One, they flatter me, as 19th century American abolitionist Frederick Douglass said of Monday-morning quarterbacks in his day: “They compliment me in assuming that I should perform greater deeds than themselves.” Two, they apparently believe my volunteer project is so valuable that more people should benefit from it. Three, instead of pushing the government to do what my project does, they point to me, an American, with a small-scale volunteer project, as somebody who can get things done.
I have been saying it for years at staff and planning meetings: I hate Somebody. I learned long ago to eliminate Somebody from my activities, because Somebody turns out to be “Nobody” when it is time to move from idea to action.
After informing questioners about those activities as ways of helping South Koreans, I invite them to start their own projects. I promise to help my questioners if they get started.
I have yet to have any takers. Stealing a line from Rev. Jesse Jackson, I tell them, “You are Somebody!” You can get things done, you don’t need to wait for the President or me. But I am starting to suspect that “Somebody” in their minds means “Somebody Else.”
The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co.in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at: CJL@post.harvard.edu.