As my eyes skim headlines on relief efforts for the thousands of refugees spreading across Europe or development organizations fighting poverty in sub-Saharan Africa or news of violence in the Middle East, my heart breaks for the suffering that plagues our world.
And yet, I rarely speak up about issues of social justice. Too often I fall prey to what I call the “myth of expertise.” I look around and see people who know so much, and I think, “What could I possibly contribute?” So I wait for a big blue genie to arrive and magically prepare me to join the conversation.
Let me tell you a secret: This genie doesn’t exist. And you don’t have to be an expert to join the conversation and engage the issues you care about.
Here are two reasons why you should dispel the myth of expertise and join the conversation before you feel you’re equipped to contribute:
- Change is accomplished by those who show up, not only by those who know the most. Possessing expert knowledge of an issue, while important, is only part of the grand scheme of working toward change. The talents God has given you have equipped you to make a contribution. Joining the conversation is the first step in the process of learning where your skills and talents meet the world’s needs.
- You’ll learn more from within the conversation than you will as a spectator. You don’t need expertise to successfully participate. Listen. Ask good questions. The first step in engaging with issues you care about is to learn. Join book clubs, travel to different cultures, or attend events. From within the conversation you’ll be better able to see how your own talents can contribute to meaningful change.
Three years ago, I began hearing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from friends who had experienced firsthand the injustices of the decades-old war. I knew that I cared about the pain experienced daily by Palestinians and Israelis, but didn’t know how I could contribute.
But I did, however, show up. There was a panel on campus, and I asked to help in any way that I could—manning the snack table or making posters. Then I was asked to use my organization skills to coordinate a trip to Bethlehem. A few months later, I found myself on a plane to Tel Aviv, headed to a conference on an issue about which I still felt I knew nothing.
Even so, I discovered that I didn’t need to be an expert to join the conversation. By showing up and contributing in ways that I knew how, I learned far more than I ever thought possible.
Don’t fall for the myth of expertise, my friends. You don’t need to be an expert to contribute. If you feel drawn to an issue, show up with a desire to learn. I think you’ll find that there is a place for you and your talents within the conversation.
Claire Stewart serves at HOPE International, where she works with the president and executive team. She is a member of Millennial Voices for Peace, a movement promoting reconciliation and a holistic understanding of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Claire has a degree in philosophy from Wheaton College (IL).