I Believe in Tikkun Olam

Carole Mehlman

This I Believe, 2014

 

When Carol asked me to do this at first all I could come up with were one-sentence answers.

Then, while working in my kitchen, I noticed under my cabinet, taped there as reminders, were several quotes. I decided that those would be the core of my story.

“The ultimate measure of a person is not where she stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where she stands at moments of challenge and controversy.”

“A shero stands up when it is darkest and continues the fight; she fights against odds for things that matter. She steps forward when the rest of the people are in retreat.”

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle and the tireless exertion and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

“Change happens. They keep moving the cheese.  Anticipate change. Get ready for the cheese to move.  Monitor change. Smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old.  Adapt to change quickly. The quicker you get let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese.  Change! Move with the cheese. Enjoy Change! Savor the adventure and the taste of new cheese.  Be ready to change again and again. They keep moving the cheese.”

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

This last quote is the most important and has been the core of my quest to Tikkun Olam—change the world.

I am not sure why I taped those quotes where I would see them.  I think I did it to keep myself going when I found myself becoming cynical because of roadblocks, corruption, stupidity, apathy surrounding me. When I am frustrated and think I am done—let the next generation pick up the torch—I look at these quotes and keep on keeping on.

I was a shy child and as I grew up I found and still find advocating for issues and others easier than advocating for myself. I was a neglected infant.  My parents’ first child, a son, died from leukemia when I was 2 months old.  I think that caused me to identify with the underdog and be self-effacing. I started to evolve after I was married and found validation and support at home and in my initial civic activities in the League of Women Voters.

In my profession and in my volunteer work I have done things differently and defied the status quo. I was a beginner as a lawyer when I tackled an appeal and reversed an agreement though my client had been represented by a lawyer: a rare and many think impossible thing to do.  I proved coercion and inadequate counsel and got my client and her daughter back into her house. That daughter went on to medical school and I still think of it as one of my most significant life achievements.  When the Florida courts and their secretary of state battled back and forth during the Bush-Gore election in an effort to stop the vote counting, I stood there in the counting house in my Gore T-shirt telling the reporters we would take it to a higher court while all of the party staff was hiding in the corners.

I returned to the League of WomenVoters when I moved back to New York from Florida recently.  Here I found that the organization was working on state and national issues. I thought a city League should be focusing on city issues. I launched a sea change by making the city issue of affordable housing the focus of our next meeting. It attracted the largest committee and attendance for a speaker and a discussion that the League had seen in a long while. The new members that were attracted by this issue are now leaders of the organization.

Then and now when I needed help for even little things I paid someone to do it rather than ask friends. I even found it hard to accept help when it was offered to me. I put this down to fear of the rejection I experienced as a child.  I gave up money that I deserved rather than risk loss of relationships.

Late in life I have begun to change. I have to because of aging and disability, but I still find it very uncomfortable to ask.

Those taped quotes still help me change myself and work in organizations that are working on Tikkun Olam.