People who successfully tackle big social, environmental, and economic problems are driven by what I call a moment of obligation — a specific time in their life when they felt compelled to act. These moments become their North Star; they keep them going in a positive direction when everything seems dark. The obligation is not only to the world but also to themselves.
Activists or social entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones who are moved this way. We all have experiences that deeply inform who we are and what we are supposed to do. But only if we allow them to.
Take Socheata Poeuv. She borrowed a bulky video camera from her office job at a television studio and carried it all the way to Cambodia. But when she got there, it felt nearly impossible to get anyone to talk about the Khmer Rouge genocide. Not even her parents — survivors who had accompanied her on the trip — would open up. Socheata followed her father through an empty field, video camera in hand. There is nothing to see here, she thought. It seemed to be the story of her entire trip. But she continued, driven by the haunting memory of the day a year prior when her parents sat her down and told her the truth about their experience with the genocide and the adoption of those she had always thought of as her siblings after their biological parents had passed away at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime.
She trailed after her father in the field remembering this moment when suddenly, he began to speak.
“We buried your aunt near here after she died,” he uttered. Then he raised his hands to his face and cried. This conversation became a central part of the film Socheata created about her family. This film later led Socheata to found an organization that shares stories of the genocide to support the healing process of generations of surviving Cambodians and Cambodian-Americans. Neither of these would have happened if Socheata’s parents had not sat her down and told her the truth. This was her moment of obligation…
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