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The Perfect Standard and why it's bad
At Saint Benedict College in northern Minnesota, a half dozen students slept out in makeshift cardboard shelters to dramatize the plight of America's homeless. "Lots who passed by treated us like a slumber party," one participant recalled. "They acted like we were so cute, then when we kept on for a couple days they began to get annoyed. One girl yelled, "Homeless people don't have blankets." I was half asleep and told her, 'Yes they do. They have blankets and friends. They just don't have homes.' She looks like she'd only be satisfied if we stood outside and got soaked in the freezing rain.(Loeb, 1994, p. 36)
So, the first thing to do is to throw the Perfect Standard out of the window in terms of your own work. No, you're not going to know everything; no one is. Sometimes, I think the advocates of the Perfect Standard were weaned off of Sesame Street too early. No one is perfect!! Remember that. On the other hand, it is good to recognize the Perfect Standard, so that you can see it in others. When you do see it, challenge it.
Perfection aside, yes, it is useful and important to be knowledgeable about the issue you're interested in.
A lot of what you learn comes from working itself. Say you're interested in environmentalism, but you know nearly nothing about it. That's fine. Go to a meeting. At the meeting, you will learn from those who have been there longer. If you dont' know, ask. Most people would be glad to inform you, especially if it means you might help their cause in the future. Simply being around environmentalists can make you much more aware of environmental issues. If you go to a demonstration, take a flyer for yourself and read it through. What you learn depends on your surroundings. Your activism and your quest for knowledge will feed off off each other as you become more informed and more involved.
Sometimes, this immersion/osmosis tactic doesn't work as quickly as you would like. If that's the case, research your issue. Go to a bookstore and pick up a book on an issue you've been thinking about. Learn what others have to say on the topic. There's usually a section in bookstores for current events. This is a good place to start. Remember, you don't have to read every page, but if you have some sort of a background in an area, you can speak about it more clearly, and you will be able to follow the nuances of it better.
Also, make use
of the internet. Get yourself on listservs and follow web pages
to stay informed. The information is there, but you have to go out
and grab it. Just don't think you need to know it all to get started.