Another day of awful news has descended on all of us. I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for me to become overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of problems facing our world. And every day, I work through a series of scenarios in my head where I play out what I can possibly do to alleviate any of them. Most of the time I resort to obsessively reading up on things in an effort to stay informed. I “like” Facebook posts, make phone calls, and sign petitions, but generally feel like it’s not enough. My typical cycle (I’m embarrassed to admit) is to ruminate about the injustice/tragedy until I’m too depressed to do anything. Then I attempt to protect myself from spiraling any further by disengaging from the constancy of my useless thoughts. I do this by distracting myself with my immediate surroundings and by slowly moving on, packing that news cycle into my back pocket so that I can draw on what I’ve learned from it in the future. Not exactly Nobel Peace Prize worthy behavior.
Today I’ve decided to break this cycle and look at it differently. My typical thought pattern has been that at the end of the day, I really can’t help in any meaningful way. So, instead of beating myself up that I can’t directly make an impact at the site of the injustice/tragedy, I’ve decided to look at ways that I can make an impact in my immediate world. This led me to think about making a difference as not solely responding to each injustice/tragedy separately, but rather by making a constant difference with a series of spheres that generate from me.
I can make the biggest difference in my own family sphere. My spouse and I can talk about the world in a safe way where we can each explore our thoughts. I can influence how my children view the world around them and how they respond to the people in their world. I can teach them to value every human being and make a positive mark on their communities.
I can make a difference in the sphere that includes my extended family, friends, coworkers, and in my case, my students. These are the people that I can talk with, ask questions, and try to be my best self. I can make a difference by living a life where I choose to show respect and humility, kindness and generosity. I can be supportive and caring and work collaboratively to make an impact on my community.
I can make a difference with my acquaintances. I can choose to smile while passing someone in the hallway. I can compliment someone, offer a hand, talk about the weather, hold a door. I can be a moment of pleasantness in someone’s non-pleasant day.
I can make a difference with people I don’t even know. I can make charitable donations. I can drive courteously. I can write letters to my elected officials. I can use social media to post ideas.
What I can’t do is start a non-profit for every cause I feel attached to. But I can be a starting point for making a positive impact in the world.
No one will invite you to make a difference. You can only make a difference because you choose to make a difference. And I’m done feeling helpless in this world. I can make a difference.
You can, too.