Many of us wish to contribute to our country, help confront our many societal challenges and make a positive difference. This is often expressed sincerely in words like: “I want to give back” or “I want to repay my privilege.”

I have chewed on these words for over a decade now. What has become evident to me is that we need to begin a fresh, new conversation in order to grow and sustain our involvement in the important work of giving and building. This becomes more-and-more vital as our democracy matures and citizens begin to realise their responsibility as co-architects of our future.

Shifting the narrative

Language is powerful and the issue with words like, “giving back” and “repaying” is that they kick-off our change-making efforts from a point of indebtedness. So, the impetus is usually something akin to guilt. Now, I am not saying that we are not indebted or that we don’t need to “give back”. I am saying that whilst guilt can be a start point as a motivator, it seldom drives people to a lifetime of quality service.  So, great new possibilities arise when we ask: What if we could sustain ourselves and one another for a lifelong journey of service? For me, this is a truly exciting possibility. It paints a picture of millions upon millions of us all building, growing and giving – over the long term.

A vision of a new future

And what if this vision could begin to take shape simply by me changing my language and moving from the paying back narrative to: “I want to be the change I wish to see in the world”; “I want to be a contribution”; “I want to use my privilege to tackle inequality and restore balance”; “I want to build my community by starting fresh, positive conversations”; “I want to serve people who are struggling”?

These statements are radically different because they are rooted in love not guilt. They involve the heart – the spirit – not just the head. They require an ongoing and very positive commitment backed up by effort and joyful sacrifice. The work is not a once-off but a part of who I am and a daily source of joy, as I live within the reality that it is better to give than to receive.

These generative narratives shift us into new and exciting spaces. They take us away from deficit and lack towards positive and intentional lived responses to the myriad challenges of our society.