When we first started reading about the unreasonability phenomena in social entrepreneurs, I thought that being unreasonable must be some kind of superpower only bestowed to the few of those with enough moxie to achieve the unreasonable. But I think if any of us looked back on our lives we could pinpoint a few moments where each and everyone of us have been unreasonable. I’ve since been able to point out times where I have been a part of an unreasonable enterprise and those times have shaped my life.
One time being unreasonable meant spending three months looking for one missing person in the space of 100 square miles. I was a small part of that enterprise, but through the duration of those three months I got to see unreasonability up close. There is a lot of power in the unreasonable. A group of unreasonable people galvanized over 1,000 volunteers towards one seemingly impossible cause. In that situation I think being unreasonable came from a source of unquenchable hope, and from what we’ve learned about social entrepreneurs so far, I think that hope tends to run unreasonable.
Then again, being unreasonable can come in smaller, personal doses that are just as powerful.
I stayed in Mexico City for about 7 months after my senior year in high school. It wasn’t something I had ever planned to do and it was not a choice I put a great deal of thought into. It was an unreasonable decision—but I wasn’t ready for college. I recognized I needed to defer a year. I needed take a break and grow in a different way.
So I chose District Federales. I had lived in a small rural town at the foot of the Sierras my entire life and led a pretty sheltered existence. I can say that I was pretty wrapped up in my own problems and did not have a very substantial world view. D.F. was a way to expand beyond; to see the world outside of my own and for me to get out of my skin.
I loved Mexico City. I was able to work there and travel all over. D.F. is like New York; densely built and populated; but larger by a factor of ten. It is the most culturally rich place I have ever been. But at the same time, the city contains visually striking illustrations of wealth disparity and severe poverty.
I remember traveling in a taxi over a freeway my first day there. You could see a great breadth of D.F., all the way to where the city touches the Sierra Madres. There was this gleaming black skyscraper and at the foot of it was a sprawling tent city. It was shocking to me. Things like tent cities and poverty always seem to be isolated to one place in the United States—cramped together; separated and segregated into specific areas. Poverty in D.F. is sprinkled all throughout the city like a fine seasoning. It is not hidden; it is blatant. It was like a slap in the face for me. I’d witnessed poverty but never on this scale.
From the skyscraper/tent city on, all I could see were the dichotomies. A woman and her severely emancipated baby outside of a Starbucks full of sleek-suited businessmen in the middle of their commute. And there were ten foot high walls with barbed wire strung on top that cordoned off large estates, guarded by men carrying semi-automatics (eventually you gather that the higher the walls the wealthier and more powerful the people tend to be), but there were also the small boys that would brave traffic, clamoring to wash your windshield and the man without legs who could somehow do the same.
When I came back from Mexico, there was a great deal that I was left with. I learned how to live and work in a foreign country (one where I did not start out knowing the language) and felt comfortable doing it. I learned how to explore by myself. I caught the travel bug and I also caught a nasty parasite. I loved meeting new people. After my gap year I was ready to take school by the horns. I was excited. College did not seem as insurmountable as it had in high school and when I got to Santa Clara I relished it in a way I definitely wouldn’t have a year before.
There was a lot about Mexico City that was left unresolved. It felt suffocating to see all that poverty and not be active in doing something to change it. I wasn’t in Mexico building houses or doing humanitarian work, which became a source of guilt: seeing so many people dealing with this kind of poverty was just so obviously wrong. Where I was coming from it took me a while to come to an understanding that this kind of poverty isn’t something you can correct as simply as a grammar mistake.
When she came to SCU, Sister Helen Prejean once said that witnessing something wrong is either paralyzing or galvanizing. I haven’t experienced anything close to what Sister Prejean has, but I understand what she means to a certain extent. Seeing poverty in D.F. was paralyzing at the time. Identifying a problem is easy but sometimes the problem itself is so huge and tangled you are stuck just trying to figure out how anybody is supposed to go about unwinding it. I had all this empathy and nowhere to spend it. Empathy is nice, but it’s perfectly pointless unless you put it to use.
I am no longer paralyzed. I think that this fellowship is going to give us all the chance to be galvanized. I understand a little more about how being unreasonable is a tool anyone can use to their advantage. If you can combine being unreasonable with being clear and discerning, you become an unreasonable transparent eyeball. And even if that sounds ridiculously silly I think the meaning behind it carries import. I am ready to go on and be perceptive in Tanzania and Uganda. I am ready to be unreasonable.