Has anyone else been feeling a little hopeless lately? I know I have. I’ve been feeling like the problems I see in the world are so big that surely there is nothing I can do to change the tides. Yes, donating to worthy causes, volunteering for charitable organizations, voting and becoming an active citizen are great ways to initiate change. But (blame it on my millennial-ness), I wanted to come up with a list of things I could do right now, in the midst of my day-to-day routine.
The title of this post reads “7 simple things you can do” but it should be “7 simple things I can do” because I do not pretend at all that I’m in the habit of doing any of these. This post honestly was born from a thought process on how I could improve the world with my presence. I thought I would share what I came up with in case anyone else is feeling like I feel and looking for meaningful yet simple ways to initiate positive change:
1. Respond to rudeness with kindness
Like all of these, this is so easy to say, yet so difficult to do. When someone cuts you off in traffic or makes a rude comment at work, online or in public, it’s natural instinct (at least it’s my natural instinct) to fight back. Why are people rude in the first place? When I’m not at my best, it’s usually not because of whatever the other person did, it’s because of whatever is going on in my life or my head that’s causing me to feel down. By letting our pride go and recognizing where the behavior is coming from, I think we could significantly improve someone’s attitude just by doing the unexpected and showing kindness.
Please don’t misinterpret this as a call to not stand up for ourselves or others or let hate spread unchecked – that’s not at all what I mean. I’m just saying that all of us have bad days and probably say things we don’t mean or act in ways which we are not proud, so let’s give each other a break when we can.
2. Say something nice to a stranger
Have you ever received a compliment from a friend or family member and brushed it off without thinking? Many of us, especially women, are taught to be modest to the point of self-depredation. While we should believe and accept a compliment received no matter who it is from, when we receive a compliment from a stranger it’s hard not to believe them. After all, they have no reason to compliment us. My day was made on more than one occasion just from something nice a stranger said. So – let’s share the love!
3. Check your online habits
How many times have you read a story about a mother whose child was turned into a nasty meme and spread across the internet? Or of someone who has been the victim of a troll campaign, their crime being to simply exist? These stories are heartbreaking, but one of the easiest things we can do to stop them is to make sure we are never a part of the problem. Taking it one step further, we can use our online presence to promote positivity and acceptance instead of negativity and divisiveness.
Here a few online rules I try to follow: Don’t defame or make fun of someone, do not share a meme or gif of anyone that is not a public figure, and in general try to keep things positive rather than nasty.
4. Ask someone their name
Anyone seen the episode of Girls where Mimi-Rose creates an art exhibit around the concept of asking people their name? Lightbulb moment! Asking someone their name immediately puts you on a more personal level.
5. Put down the phone
If you have 15 minutes, I highly recommend this discussion about millennials in the workplace. The speaker, Simon Sinek, discusses how our addiction to our phones inhibits creativity, innovation, personal connection and social aptitude. Amazing things can happen when we put our phones down and take a look around. I did this one day at the vet; I had my phone out and there was an elderly man sitting beside me. I could feel he was lonely, and I decided to put my phone away. He immediately started talking to me and I found out he was a World War II veteran, had been married to his now deceased wife for nearly 50 years, and was at the vet to collect the ashes of his recently passed dog. I asked his name (why was it so scary to do that?). As I headed out after my dog’s appointment, the woman at the front desk said, “Thank you so much for talking to that man earlier, his dog was his life and he is devastated right now.” I almost cried. My conversation with him made my day better and I knew then it made his better too.
6. Question anything you read (and think twice before sharing)
Fake news is everywhere, people. Not just fake news, but articles, Facebook and blog posts filled with unsourced facts and faulty information. Don’t believe everything you read. Just because your friend on Facebook shared a photo that said “new studies show broccoli is bad for you” doesn’t mean it is true. Do your own research; double-check facts in articles. Even a simple Google search can confirm or debunk a lot of information. Be a source of truth.
7. Pray for the people you just plain don’t like
This also is a hard one. Really hard at times. As hard as it is, prayer can lead to clarity and understanding (and much more of course). And whether or not you believe in a higher being, praying for your enemies can at least help put you into a better mindset.
One of the best lessons I learned in college came from an elective class called “Life Choices.” We cannot control other people’s actions – we can only control how we respond to people’s actions. It’s such a simple concept, and such a true one, but in practice so difficult to implement. But how freeing it is when we truly understand this realization. That’s what most if not all of this list is about, remembering that the only person whose actions we can control are our own, and trying to make our actions positive and productive.
I know there are so many more simple things we can do to improve the world that don’t require time or money. I want to hear YOUR suggestions!