What is Putting Idealism to Work? It could mean a lot of things. According to City Year AmeriCorps member Janae Babineaux, who served last year in Baton Rouge;

"As corps members, team leaders, and staff alike, PITWs are the anecdotes of our service. They are our little reminders and our teachers that lead us to serve as our very-best self in our schools and our communities. PITWs define the values, goals, and expectations of City Year and outline the foundation on which our service exists."

In addition, corps members use PITW's to structure the tone of meetings they are having, as well as including some of them in their classroom decorations to help inspire and motivate the students that they're working with.

There are over 180 PITW's that are used to provide examples of our culture, and are implemented in meetings and gatherings by corps members and staff alike. Because there are so many, we're going to share some of our favorites. 

1. Challenge cynicism — wherever you find it.


The first step towards putting idealism to work is to reject cynicism and embrace idealism. All successful human endeavors — from breakthrough inventions like the telephone to great social leaps forward like the Civil Rights Movement— begin with the assumption that change is possible. Nothing is more destructive today than the growth of cynicism, a pervasive negativity — an habitual scoffing — that ridicules positive initiative, questions everyone’s motives, and assumes the worst in people and institutions. Cynicism is the enemy of positive change because it discourages creative thinking — and destroys both the belief that change is possible and the will to act. Like a corrosive cancer of the human spirit, cynicism has become so pervasive that recognizing and standing up to cynicism — especially in everyday conversation and thinking — is now a major act of courage and belief. Learn to recognize cynicism, in all its forms. Challenge cynicism everywhere, especially within City Year itself.


35. Manage by information.


Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Professor and City Year Board member, shared the insight that a very empowering way to manage big tasks is “by information.” That is, publicly distribute progress reports for specific goals, such as how many teams have 100 percent attendance, or how we are doing hitting our Serve-a-thon registration goals. A healthy competition is just one benefit of “managing by information.” The sharing of information also shows how the organization is doing as a whole, and shows where either investments need to be made or where special expertise is being developed. Almost any activity that includes numbers or lists can be “managed by information.”


38. Always debrief — look for the “unexpected” success or failure.


After every major team task, assemble the team and “debrief” — analyze what went right, what could have been done better, and why. Figure out how City Year as an organization can learn the lessons your team learned. Then you can put the lessons learned in writing. Organizational expert Peter Drucker points out that we can always learn the most when we get results which differ from what we expected to get. Be especially on the look out — and learn the most from — the “unexpected success” or the “unexpected failure.”


46. Be a clock builder, not just a time-teller.


John Smale, former CEO of Procter and Gamble said of his company, “Our commitment must be to continue the vitality of this company — its growth in physical terms and also its growth as an institution — so that this company, this institution will last through another 150 years. Indeed, so it will last through the ages.”


In everything we do, we need to think of the seven generations ahead of us and ensure that we are making it possible for them to participate in an even better “City Year.” Jim Collins and Jerry Porras of Stanford School of Business, describe this strategic way of thinking and operating as “clock-building” or building systems and structures around the work we do so that it will be “built to last.” If we always rely on one person to “tell time” (that is, to perform a specific function) then without that person we are lost. However, if that time-teller builds a “clock” around his or her specific function, many people can tell time from it. Time telling often gets great praise within any organization — simply because of the terrific heroics of time-telling individuals. We must all learn to be clock-builders, not time-tellers, and to reserve our highest praise for the best clock-builders.


"Can I get a volunteer to read 'Putting Idealsim to Work?'"

60. Seek clarity in thinking — and have the courage to go where that clarity leads.


The work we do is often difficult. Solutions to problems are not always easily apparent. Over time, however, hard work and hard thinking usually lead to “clarity” — sometimes not until you are lying in bed late at night! “I have clarity on this” is among the sweetest sounds at City Year. When you get clarity, follow it, even if it challenges original assumptions or ideas.


70. Seek to be effective, not just “right.”


Often this means truly “walking in other people’s moccasins.” Of course, it is perfectly acceptable — even essential for those who seek to lead — to challenge the thinking of others. But as Robert Kennedy said, “The task of leadership, the first task of concerned people, is not to condemn or castigate or deplore; it is to search out the reason for disillusionment and alienation, the rationale of protest and dissent — perhaps, indeed, to learn from it.”


84. Find and use “teachable moments”


Constantly share what you’re learning with those who you are leading.


96. Civic engagement, not traditional politics, is City Year’s vehicle for change.


The distinction between traditional politics and civic engagement is a critical one to City Year. City Year is both non-partisan and pre-political. We neither march nor petition. City Year is an intensive, civic experience, an immersion in service and leadership for corps, staff and others. Community service is a unique and special meeting place for diverse people and institutions to come together to find common ground and purpose. Community service is not presented as a “replacement” for politics. Rather, community service is a new meeting ground that can help improve politics by building a more engaged, knowledgeable, inter-connected, and idealistic citizenry and society.


114. Seek to move out of your “comfort zone” and into your “challenge zone.”


City Year is often a place where you get a chance to “slay your dragon” — and grow. In other words, you get many opportunities to do difficult, personally challenging things. For those that are shy and tend to always follow, the dragon to slay might be to speak publicly and lead. For those who tend to lead, the dragon to slay may be to learn to follow others and work effectively in a group. Eleanor Roosevelt said that “you must do what you are most afraid to do.”


133. Share “ripples” constantly — they increase the joy.


If someone is having a bad day, a “ripple” can bring that person up and give perspective. You may be holding onto someone else’s inspiration! If you have a great ripple, share it!


168. If you want to communicate powerfully, tell a story.


A major part of our mission is to inspire others to civic action. All great leaders communicated their ideas best by telling a story—think how many Bible stories you can remember.


Just think of the difference between hearing a 30 minute speech on the subject of how we can all make a difference versus hearing a simple story of a little girl on a beach who said “I made a difference to that one!” when she was challenged as to why she was attempting to save dying starfish on the beach when she could not possibly save them all.The best stories are personal, full of vivid details, and answer the question: “This is how I know that I am making a difference.”



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