by Craig Newmark as told to Elise Ballard
Most of our lives are based on daily minutiae. We do what we need to do; then we do a little bit more of it; then we do a little bit more of it. And we get through our lives pretty successfully that way. Now and then if we’re lucky, we do have some big realization about ourselves—an epiphany that changes things or maybe reinforces what we’re about—and if we’re smart, we follow it. When I had my epiphany, I know I focused on it pretty quickly, and started thinking about what I should really do. How I should act.
I had a very strong realization that has caused me to take action in very specific ways. I guess I’ve done well enough in business that I can think about what is most satisfying for me—which has to do with making a difference, changing things a bit. I have been working with a lot of people lately in public service, thinking about what they do and what I’ve been doing for craigslist. I reminded myself that customer service, which is how I make a living, is a kind of public service.
I work in craigslist customer service half-time, seven days a week. That gives me a lot of other time that I could use. I do need some time for watching TV—I’m a couch potato. But the rest of that time, I realized that there are a lot of people in public service for whom it’s more than just a paycheck. It wasn’t enough, just doing craigslist customer service. I realized that I needed to take action—I needed to stop just thinking about public service and start taking action. It was time to go all in.
What is it in your life that is waiting for you to go “all in”?
So I’m in the process of doing that. I’m interested in helping people and groups in public service, supporting them in getting the job done. In some cases I’m just giving advice on social media, trying to help them get the word out. In other cases, I’m getting more seriously involved on a personal ongoing basis.
For instance, I’m working with groups in support of veterans, such as the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, involving genuine support for the troops rather than just words. I’m also supporting and working with government workers on multiple levels to use the Net for superior public service and with the Sunlight Foundation on government accountability and transparency. I also am involved with large-scale efforts like Wikipedia. People may or may not realize this, but Wikipedia is a really big deal. It is a great example of the balance between professional work and mass collaboration. It is a history of our times that is always being written, and is one of the biggest resources we have reflecting how we think of ourselves and how things happen. It’s imperative that bad guys don’t go in, put disinformation in there, and screw things up for everyone. A lot of what I will do for Wikipedia will deal with information quality and control, and the ethics of updating content.
How do you deal with groups that practice disinformation on a professional basis? How do you prevent them from hurting everyone? There are people that do that kind of thing for profit. They do a lot of bad stuff everywhere, and we’ve got to do something about it. Wikipedia needs a little help, a little protection. People of goodwill need to work together to do that, and I’m ready for service. Even a couch potato like me needs to stand up.
People keep asking me questions, which kind of forces me to think, and then think again, about what I’m doing. That’s good because the more I think about it, the more I realize, the more I act. The thrust of my work is that I help enable people to help other people—that’s what we do as a team at craigslist. Apparently, so far we’ve impacted tens of millions of people, and as I expand the scope of my personal public service, my target over twenty years is to reach billions.
But I have very informal targets. My goal is that the work I do with craigslist—enabling people to help other people—and what I can do to support the Internet and sites like DonorsChoose.org (an online charity that makes it easy to donate to students and classrooms in need), Kiva.org (an international microfinance organization), and Wikipedia will influence the human species in really good ways.
I’ve just really started. I may not know for ten years, maybe twenty years. But it’s setting the direction for my life, and it has helped me understand what I’ve been doing up till now without consciously realizing it: I’ve been doing public service through customer service. Realizing this tells me that I need to go all in for all sorts of public service, in the ways I think about that. That feels right to me. But it’s very individual. Whatever works for a person as an individual, hey, that works for me. The deal is, it’s a matter of shared values—treat people like you want to be treated; live and let live; and also give the other person a break now and then.
HERE IS A VIDEO CLIP OF THE INTERVIEW WITH CRAIG:
Craig Newmark is the founder of craigslist.org. One of the direct results of this epiphany is his non-profit organization, craigconnects. He is involved in numerous charitable organizations and is a proponent for keeping the internet free. He became a member of the Wikimedia Foundation advisory board, is a member of the New America Foundation Leadership Council and serves on the board of the Sunlight Foundation. In 2009, Newmark was named an honorary patron of the University Philosophical Society of Trinity College, Dublin.
About the Epiphany Series:
This is an excerpt from my book, Epiphany: True Stories of Sudden Insight to Inspire, Encourage, and Transform. A heartfelt journey full of amazing stories of fascinating people, from world-renowned figures, thought leaders, and performers—such as Maya Angelou, Dr. Oz, Desmond Tutu, Deepak Chopra and Barry Manilow—to former inmates, leading psychologists, teachers, homemakers, and many more. These stories contain great wisdom and insight that will inspire—or cause you to remember—your own epiphanies. You can also visit my website, EpiphanyChannel.com, to learn more about the project and share your epiphanies. To buy the book or read more, please CLICK HERE.