“Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person. ”
― R. Buckminster Fuller
The revolution will begin in your living room.
It has to start somewhere, right? We all want to live in a kinder, healthier, more just world, but how to go about creating the necessary changes?
When we think about creating significant change in the world, we often look to people who have saturated the public eye. Artists. Politicians. Celebrities. Religious leaders. Social media icons. People who have found their way out of obscurity and into popular awareness. When these people make a positive difference, we feel hopeful and inspired to do the same.
But there is a downside to drawing inspiration from these sources, and it is this: When we look to famous people as an example of how to make a difference in the world, the change we find ourselves capable of creating seems infinitesimal by comparison. And it may be that this is true (though people are using the internet and social media to change this). But where we go wrong is in mistaking the infinitesimal to be insignificant.
No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
Unfortunately, it is all too often this mistaken belief that “what we as individuals do does not matter in the grand scheme of things” that causes so many of us to be part of the problems rather than the solutions. Because we let ourselves feel insignificant, rather than helping others in whatever small ways we can, we choose to do nothing.
Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”
— Edmund Burke
The good news is: this does not have to be the case with us forever. We can choose a different life narrative for ourselves right now, today.
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
— Anne Frank
If we want to live in a better world, we each hold the power to create the necessary change.
Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
― Robert F. Kennedy
We must simply choose to create that change where we can, every day.
I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
― Edward Everett Hale
If we want to change the world, we all must start where we can. It does not have to be as overwhelming as it seems. We don’t have to make speeches from podiums or march in the streets to touch the lives of others and effect enormous change. It is true that those bigger actions are a very important and necessary part of a broader social dialogue, and those who have the drive and the means to participate in such events should. But not all of us can do those things, for whatever reasons. And that’s okay.
But it doesn’t have to mean that we do nothing.
The revolution will begin in our living rooms because it has to start with us. We are the ones that we have been waiting for. So if you’re looking for a place to start, here are three simple things you can do every day that will add up to make a huge difference in the world.
Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”
— Scott Adams
The single most important thing anyone can do in this life is to be kind to other living beings. Life is a scary, confusing, and overwhelming experience. Everyone, no matter their gender, age, race, class, religion, sexual orientation, or income level feels the effects of living in a world full of uncertainty. These feelings make us scared, which makes us defensive. And when everyone is scared and defensive, we collectively create a cycle of tension, hostility, and even violence.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Luckily, there is a simple antidote to the cycle: kindness. Performing acts of kindness, both for those close to us and for complete strangers, can generate feelings of good will and trust. The bonds that form as a result of these feelings are just as crucial for our long-term survival now as they were when humans first evolved and formed tribal communities. We need this trust to open the pathways of communication between people of diverse backgrounds in order to find and implement the solutions to humanity’s greatest problems.
Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”
— Albert Schweitzer
When we practice kindness, the effects are far-reaching. Many of us have heard stories about people paying it forward to strangers, perhaps purchasing a meal or coffee for the person in line behind us. Such events often do not remain isolated incidents, as the initial act can inspire a chain of subsequent kindnesses. Just as people are more likely to drop money in tip jars if there are already tips inside, are more likely to give to a homeless person if they see other people doing the same, or are more likely to interact with a “Free Hugs” participant if they see others doing it, kindness is contagious. When we are courageous enough to initiate an exchange of kindness with those around us, we give others permission to love, to trust, and to place their hope in the humanity of others.
And the best thing about kindness? It is completely free to give. A simple, kind smile will always do the trick when nothing else can be done. Kind words and a willingness to listen can mean a lot to someone who is struggling to get through the day. Taking a moment out of our days to hold the door open for someone, to feed a stray animal, or to give a compliment to someone we may or may not know can make a huge difference in the lives of others, and in our own lives.
In fact, studies have shown that practicing kindness can generate higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction in the givers. So ultimately, treating others with kindness is a kindness to ourselves. And when it comes to making a positive difference in the world, practicing self-love and kindness is the absolute best place to start.
If you’re looking for some random acts of kindness ideas, check out randomactsofkindness.org.
Commit to Reading One Article Every Day About a Cause or Issue You Are Interested In
With all the good vibes from practicing kindness to others, you might find that you naturally want to expand your realm of influence to help in other ways. If so, that’s great! The world certainly needs all the help it can get, and it is well within your power to help in simple yet effective ways.
It is true that the better educated you are, the more effective you will be in the help that you lend. However, with so many causes to learn about, it can be hard to know where to start. It is beneficial to remember the common wisdom that to change everything, start anywhere.
If you have access to any source of information, whether through books, television, or social media, you have no doubt encountered some social cause or issue that has attracted your attention and sympathy. Perhaps you wanted to learn more so that you could better understand the issue and how you could help. But there is so much information out there, and the problems are complex. It seems like it would take years of intensive study in an academic program to gain the knowledge necessary to do anything of value toward these causes.
Fortunately, thanks to the internet and other sources of access to free education, such as public libraries and broadcasts, this is becoming less true everyday. With such amazing resources as NoExcuseList.com, KhanAcademy.org, and my personal favorite, Coursera.org, continuing education is more accessible than ever — and better yet, these websites all offer it for free.
And of course, don’t forget about such staples as YouTube, Google, Wikipedia, and social media. Here you’ll find seemingly unlimited access to videos, documentaries, articles and essays. There are also several independent media outlets, such as Democracy Now! and The Young Turks, that are dedicated to providing honest and reputable reporting to viewers. With a reliable internet connection, a whole world of information is available at your fingertips, and the possibilities for learning opportunities are literally endless as more and more content is generated every day.
Here it is important to note, however, that the path of an autodidact, or self-taught individual, necessitates a keen eye for seeking out credible sources of information. Because the internet has made it possible for pretty much anyone to write, publish, and upload their own content, it can be hard to know which sources to trust for accuracy. Taking the time to learn how to conduct proper research and how to distinguish factual, credible information from pseudoscience and under-researched speculation can do a world of good for the dedicated autodidact.
Another invaluable asset to the self-taught individual is attitude. An eagerness to learn will get you far, but one must also cultivate a healthy tension between reasonable skepticism and sincere open-mindedness. Skepticism will help to filter out useless or harmful information, while open-mindedness will allow you to consider ideas that might contradict your initial understandings or beliefs. If you really want to make a positive change in the world, learning to understand where others are coming from is critical to that end. Practicing kindness through actions will build bridges between people, and we must extend those bridges by practicing kindness in our thoughts and communication with others. Hence, truly learning about an issue or cause means learning about the situation from all angles and considering all the possibilities when solutions are posed.
With so much information out there, it is easy to be overwhelmed. However, narrowing your focus to one cause or issue as you start can help eliminate some of the information vertigo you might initially experience. This endeavor does not have to be an all-consuming one, either. To break the effort into one manageable daily task, simply commit to reading one article or watching one video about your area of focus every day. This simple five- to ten-minute practice will keep you informed about what is going on in the world around you as you slowly build your knowledge base and gain a better understanding of the issue.
According to this study by Statista, the average social media user spends about 118 minutes per day scrolling through their feeds and interacting with content and other users. And this study by Statista has shown that viewers around the world spend an average of between 153-282 minutes per day watching television. So for those of us who are already using social media and watching TV daily, taking a few minutes of that recreational time and putting it toward learning about an important global cause or issue is a small contribution to make. But while the effort may be small, the power of knowledge must never be underestimated. With a small investment of time every day, a little bit of knowledge will quickly grow into a lot of knowledge. In the right hands, the right knowledge can contribute to big change. And you never know — with a bit of hard work and inspiration, the biggest revolution you ignite can begin in your own life.
For some tips on how to learn effectively through the internet, check out “11 Tips for Self-Education in the Internet Age” on RefineTheMind.com.
Talk to the People Closest to You About What You Are Learning
Now that you’ve begun to invest time into learning about important causes and issues, it’s time to put that knowledge to work. In order for any social movement to gain ground, awareness must be raised about the issues and their possible solutions. To begin this work, the easiest place to start is with those in your immediate vicinity: your loved ones and acquaintances.
Multiple studies have observed the obvious: those closest to us influence our beliefs and opinions more than anyone or anything else. This tendency can present a double-edged sword, for we can just as easily be swayed by misinformation if our loved ones believe it as we would be by credible information given to us from the same sources. But luckily, you are putting effort into gaining knowledge about issues from credible sources, right? So who better to communicate this information with your social circle than you?
There is a term for this kind of focused effort to effect change on the ground level: grassroots activism. As the term implies, this level of change begins from the ground up. However, the effects can stretch beyond one’s immediate social circle to influence the local, regional, national, and international levels of change. As we’ve seen a growing number of times, from the Civil Rights Movement (continuing today with Black Lives Matter) to various labor movements (such as the Fight for $15), environmental movements (#NoDAPL) and political movements (Occupy Wall Street), grassroots activism can be largely successful.
You don’t have to be an organizer, or even attend meetings or participate in protests, to get involved on the grassroots level. Just like practicing kindness and reading an article every day, this is something you can do from your living room. Of course, you will expand your realm of influence as you step out of that comfort zone, but sharing the information you are learning with those closest to you is a small step that could add up to make a huge difference over time.
It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
And make no mistake, the importance of this work is huge. In order to effect change on any issue, several things are necessary. At the broadest level, political change will be the culmination of any social movement, because laws are how every society governs itself, and politics are how we create and change the laws. In order to influence politics, we must have political will, which comes from people. Gaining political will means that we need to generate support from the people affected, and this happens through campaigning, demonstrating, and raising awareness through media — all of which costs money, which we generate through fundraising. Once the political will has reached a critical mass, people begin to influence politicians and the issues are debated in broader media outlets and legislative sessions. Eventually, if the efforts are a success, the desired changes are signed into law.
This is a very rough sketch of the political process, but the reason for drawing it is to illustrate the point that at every turn, individual people are responsible for combining their efforts to create change. Of course, politics are not the only way to make things happen. Plenty of direct action groups circumvent the political process by raising funds and organizing efforts to provide education and needed services in their communities. Effective charities/altruistic organizations funnel money raised through donations to support a broad range of efforts. Even something as simple as a community food drive can be a force for change. However, these grassroots endeavors inevitably affect the political arena as solutions are tested and awareness is raised around the issues prompting the actions.
And you never know who is going to be inspired to join and create these kinds of movements. Even if you do not personally have the time or the will to be an organizer or to participate in organized movements, the conversations you have with your friends, family, and acquaintances might generate the spark for someone else to get involved. Alternately, the debates and sharing of ideas may inspire and influence you. Remain humble and be open to learning from those whom you will also teach.
Education is a powerful thing — so powerful, in fact, that institutions have historically controlled access to knowledge in order to control the people they have governed. By educating yourself and those around you, you can share this power with others. But remember, in order to be effective with this endeavor, you must practice kindness to keep those bridges of communication in tact, and you must pursue a well-rounded education so that you are spreading valid information and so you can understand the ideas and perspectives of the people around you.
Never Underestimate the Power of One
You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.”
With all this being said, the main takeaway is this: to do big things, you only need start small. As the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” By taking that initial step right now, you can lead yourself to places you never dreamed were possible.
The level of our success is limited only by our imagination and no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.”
Lying dormant within you is the power to do great things. These things may not always take the forms we expected. What seems great to us might not appear so to others — but then again, what may seem a small thing to one may mean the world to someone else.
If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
— Mother Teresa
Somewhere in the world, someone is waiting for you. You may not ever know this person, but what you do today will eventually ripple out to touch them.
In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
Let your touch be one of love and kindness. The world needs you more than you will ever know.
She graduated from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Creative Writing minor. She currently resides on Planet Earth, and therefore has a vested interest in the goings-on and goings-to-be around the place.
She's also really friendly, so feel free to drop a line: Jacquelyn@radicallyenlightened.com.
Latest posts by Jacquelyn Othon (see all)
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