This one woman was the sole employee and executive director of a very busy nonprofit. The nonprofit’s mission was to convene. The executive director convened seminars, street fairs, breakfasts, dinners, symposiums. She designed signs to be put up on lampposts, intersections supermarkets. You name it, she convened it.
All the activities of the nonprofit were devoted to thinking about the future of cities. As if the cities would have no future if no one thought about them. As if Tuesday would not follow Monday if no one thought about what would follow Monday.
This one woman, short, stocky Olympia, did all of that. She did it all alone. Why did she do it all alone? Because the stingy board of directors, not one of whom contributed a dime to the nonprofit, didn’t want to hire anyone else. But these future-of-cities fantasists did love to see their names on the nonprofit’s letterhead. At first the names of the board of directors were listed on the right side of the letterhead. Then the board of directors instructed Olympia to move their names to the left side of the letterhead. Left was better. So Olympia did all that by herself, alone. Some on the board thought if she could do all that by herself, maybe they could get rid of her and “all that” would keep happening by itself. After all, look at all that was happening through Olympia alone. From one to none was not much.
But much unhappiness comes from going it alone even if , like Olympia, you are also going along. Over time, Olympia learned that when there are many of us, it’s different. Then we are together. And we get in the habit of listening to each other. What others say concerns us too. That’s how we learn who we are and what we must do, and for whom. It’s how we learn what is expected of us and how to do what is expected of us, and how to deny our own interests, and even how to laugh at our own interests.
Long after she had left the future-of-cities nonprofit and become a renowned, fiercely competitive volley ball player, she remembered those lessons: Everywhere there are battles we must fight; fighting is where the money is; at the same time we must be vigilant and alert; we are in a battle that we will win; winning also is where the money is.