Thursday, October 13, 2011

Active Voice

The CROP Walk doesn’t attract a huge number of participants in my community even though it’s held the same Sunday afternoon every year. The goal is to draw attention to hunger and poverty. A quarter of the funds raised stays in the local community; the rest supports international hunger-fighting agencies.

I don’t know if the low participation is due to disinterest in the cause or to the temptation of a 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon nap or to competition with other walks and races that are held the same weekend. (This year, 500 registered for a 5K Run/Walk for cancer awareness and  2,650 participated in a 1K walk to kick off Iowa’s Healthiest State Initiative.) 

I admit I’ve slept through many of the past years’ events. Instead of walking, I’ve tossed a few loose bills into the offering plate and added a canned item or two to my church’s collection for the local food pantry. I supported the cause, yet I took the easier, and more passive, path.

Last Sunday, my family and I joined about 75 others (my estimation) for our community’s 5K CROP Walk. To be honest, we participated partly because our children’s youth group leader was one of the organizers and because our Bible study group decided to walk instead of gathering for our monthly get-together scheduled for that evening. But even though there was a sense of obligation in my stride, I was struck by this statement from the organization's brochure:

Hungry people in developing countries typically walk as much as six miles a day to get food, water, and fuel, and to take their goods to market.  We walk to be in solidarity with their struggle for existence. We walk because they walk!

Women and girls carry water home in Geles, an Arab village in Darfur.
Credit: Paul Jeffrey/ACT-Caritas
It’s difficult to fully understand the effects of hunger if one has never missed a meal or not had to walk several miles to draw the day’s supply of water. And that may be the main reason efforts to raise awareness about hunger aren’t as popular as those that tout health issues. Many of us know someone who’s faced a serious illness, or we’ve faced one ourselves. We don’t always recognize the hungry even though statistics say they are among us.

One of the first rules beginning writers learn is the difference between active and passive voice.

“There are times writers may prefer the passive verb,” writes Patricia O’Conner, author of five books about the English language, “but they’re one step away from the action. Active verbs have more energy, more buzz, They get to the point sooner and with fewer words.”

Mignon Fogarty, who created the Grammar Girl line of reference materials, writes: “Passive voice is not necessarily wrong. It just isn’t always the best way to phrase your thoughts.”

Our Hunger Walk was a little more than three miles. We walked it in an hour and in mild weather. There was no extreme heat, wind, or rain to contend with. No containers to carry. Mid-way, we stopped for water and restroom facilities; a selection of fruit, granola bars, and water was available at the finish line. Yes, my legs and hips were a little tired when I got home, but I had a soft couch to sit on, the opportunity to soak in a hot bath, and a refrigerator full of food.

Was my voice active or passive?

Maybe a little bit of both.
Probably not enough of either.
But hopefully, a step in the right direction.

~~~ Footnote ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Two years ago, my children and I attended a Hunger Banquet. Here’s a quick look at some of the information organizers shared with us. The numbers are staggering. Then check out my For Your Journal writing prompt (scheduled for October 25th). I wrote about the experience.