Have you ever wondered what you can do to make the world a better place?
Most of us want to do something positive, to help, to make a difference and yet, at the same time, we have this nagging feeling that one person will never be able to change anything.
We feel overwhelmed by the scale of the problems around us — homelessness, poverty, war, displacement, terrorism — and we feel overwhelmed by the growing to-do list in our heads.
If we stopped and put away our phones, we might realize that we’re reeling under the weight of it all. This isn’t good. Studies have shown that even the most altruistic people are less charitable when in a rush. Not good at all.
But wait. There’s hope. Put away your phone (except of course if you’re reading this). Stop looking at the big problems and start looking for the little miracles that you can do every day to help someone else feel they belong. Because giving is one of the first steps to belonging.
The first thing to do is shut up that voice in your head nagging you about all the things you need to do. Writing a list often helps free up space in your brain for something more interesting than pick up the dry cleaning.
Now, start paying attention to your surroundings. Really paying attention. When you pay for your morning coffee, do you see the colour of your barista’s eyes? Do you have a brief chat with that person while they make your latte? When you’re in the line up at the grocery store do you notice the check out clerk’s bitten fingernails as he scans through your milk? Did you hear that woman with three screaming toddlers who needed help onto the train? Have you really listened to anyone today?
Part of the reason many of us feel we don’t belong is because we’re not paying attention. Once we start paying attention, we’ll notice there are lots of little miracles we can perform every day. And when we help others, we help ourselves.
Take me. Last year, I learned about a Brisbane primary school that needed supplies because many children were coming to school without the necessary book packs which includes basics like pencils, books and crayons. (In Australia, parents must purchase learning supplies for the year.) So I set up donation boxes at my daughters’ school, watched them fill up with all kinds of goodies and sent them off to their new home.
Then this morning I received a thank you message from one of the teachers. We had donated several used drink bottles to the school and one little girl picked out one of my daughter’s metal bottles with the painted butterflies chipping off it and asked if she could have it as her own. The teacher agreed.
I didn’t think possessions would help move people towards belonging but I was wrong. This little girl adores her bottle, takes care of it every day and is proud of it. Sure, there are other emotions linked to this little bottle — respect, pride in ownership, responsibility, and dignity or worthiness — but there is also something about belonging.
So today, this week, this month, calm your busy mind, be aware, look around you, really see the people you are talking with. Turn off that harried auto-pilot that’s suffocating your charitable side.
You don’t have to set up collection boxes to share your miracle of belonging. Once you start focussing on your surroundings you find lots of small things to do every day. Smile at a stranger, get to know your barista one sentence at a time, welcome a new family to the neighbourhood. Listen.
The smaller the better.
Together, we can change the world, one drink bottle at a time.