Purpose ≠ cause (ongoing topic)

Following a post titled “Busy but still missing a purpose” two weeks ago, I’ve been pondering the topic and decided to share some thoughts that might be helpful to others as well. This post isn’t going to wrap up with a tidy conclusion; indeed, there may be future posts that contradict it. The search for purpose and meaning remains a work in progress.

• Perhaps I’ve started backwards, looking for organizations that seek volunteers, when I might have started with my skills and interests. When I couldn’t sustain the motivation to continue with the organizations, it wasn’t because I didn’t care about the causes but because the tasks they had me doing didn’t fit me.

• If I hope to sustain motivation, therefore, I ought first to consider what I have been passionate about at various times. Working as a reporter and editor suited me; I love to acquire information and shape it into a coherent presentation. I’ve done that with family history, too, which I’ve had to take breaks from or it would consume all my time. I researched the Episcopal Church to death when I was deciding whether to join. At various times I couldn’t get enough of Jane Austen, Dorothy L. Sayers, Michael Jordan, and gardening books. Chicago is an ongoing research subject. It’s not hard to spot a pattern here — a desire to learn things — but then I was also obsessed with gardening, which took me out of my head. I like to manage a project with a goal, be it planting a patch of ground or updating the family history.

• These passions aren’t causes, and conflating purpose and cause has confused my thinking. Cause is out there, purpose comes from within. Purpose is something I don’t have to motivate myself for. If my purpose can serve a cause, great, but it’s not a requirement.

• That’s not to say that I shouldn’t care about causes, but perhaps I should stop looking for a single cause to fuel my motivation and to change the world. Small ways of serving the social good add up. I should not discount donations, monthly cooking at my church’s food ministry, this blog, and Positively Good Reads, my website that reviews upbeat literary novels.

• Since Chicago Greeter tours benefit people who can afford to travel, I’ve dismissed as service the more than 900 hours I’ve volunteered. It’s rigid and narrow to think that a volunteer activity has to help a needy population to count as contributing to the social good. The Greeter Program spreads goodwill among people who come to Chicago from all over, and I enjoy it and feel useful doing it. Those are meaningful benefits.

• Even as I reassure myself, however, there remains a nagging feeling that I should do more to make my little corner of the world a better place.

To be continued now and then.



Congressional Democrats are in a muddle about whether to impeach Donald Trump. A few weeks ago I opposed impeachment for political reasons — it might hurt Democrats with voters, and in the unlikely event the Senate were to uphold a House vote to impeach, we’d be left with Mike Pence, who would then have the incumbent’s advantage.

Now I’m not sure as I look at the issue from an ethical or good-citizen point of view. Does opposing impeachment for political reasons make us no better than the Republicans in the House and Senate who prop up a man at least some of them must despise? No better than Evangelicals who look away from Trump’s amoral behavior because he supports their goals?

But if impeachment were to help his reelection, has it done the country a service?



“The president has completely overblown what he reports to have achieved. . . . [B]y and large the president achieved nothing except to jeopardize the most important trading relationship that the United States of America has.”

— Beto O’Rourke, Democratic presidential candidate, on Trump’s claims that his threatening tariffs achieved concessions from Mexico on stopping immigration from Central America


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  • 3 cheers on the Chicago Greeter scene, spending Goodwill for and
    about Chicago is always a good thing.

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