By Joe Nelson
So many people talk about wanting to make a difference in the world. Many of us - myself included, sometimes see it as too large of a task for just one person to accomplish. Unless we have started a ‘movement’ or have an entire fleet of followers or listeners, this task of making the world a better place can feel overwhelming. Anxiety starts going through the roof, my heart beats out of my chest, and my hands feel like I just lathered in a gallon of moisturizer they are sweating so much! There is something to be gained from stepping beyond one’s anxiety over the lack of capacity we have to individually solve all the world’s problems and systematic injustices, and to be more in tune to the ‘little’ opportunities that present themselves. These are only little things from our perspective and they can mean the world to the receiver of the acts.
An apple is small to an elephant, but it is quite large still to the ant…
Some of the things we can do as individuals that can help make a difference to the immediate world around us can make a direct difference to those who are helped. Here are a few examples from my own life that I would like to share, in the hopes of inspiring readers to seize opportunities to improve and brighten someone’s day.
The first idea that I’ve implemented to try to be more caring and helpful towards others in-need involves something I saw on social media. One of my digital friends inspired me to start to keep a box of granola bars or fresh produce in the car for homeless people. To give out to those standing streetside or holding signs at intersections. This is easy to stock even with limited funds, though to avoid melted chocolate or rotten fruit, weather and shelf life are things to consider when deciding what to keep ready to share.
The next way I aim to make a difference is by making sure I tip servers properly. Just the other day I was a Red Robin getting my free birthday burger. I sat near the bar, since it was about 2PM and most of the servers were doing side-work and getting ready to end their shift. While enjoying my meal and my second helping of bottomless fries, I overheard the bartender talking with another employee that she only made a $4 tip off of a table whose bill was $60. I immediately knew this was an opportunity to brighten someone’s day and make a bad situation that I wasn’t even involved with better. When I paid my bill at my table on their new fancy table kiosk, I used the printed receipt to write on and left a little note explaining that I purposefully left a little extra money for the bartender to help make up for her $60 table that tipped poorly. I’ve worked in the food industry and know what it’s like to bust your tail for people and them to underappreciate you and place your value below par. It doesn’t matter if she gave them terrible service, if the kitchen got things wrong or she rang things up wrong because the services were still provided regardless of quality. I don’t know the entire situation, but I knew a way to help improve the situation!
Aside from personal changes one can make, engaging organizations you are affiliated with in
your mission can be incredibly effective and rewarding. When I worked in casting in the film industry, my boss and I both loved working with nonprofits and charities such as The Brandy Angel Foundation: Be The Change, The Michael J. Fox Foundation and A Rose Of Thanks amongst several others to give back to the community. There were also a couple of direct action events we put on. We did ‘Bologna Wednesday’ for a while. “Bologna Wednesday’ was us simply pitching in $3 each, buying bread and bologna, and then cooking them up on a flat-top grill. After cooking them, we bagged them up in tin foil and handed them out on the street to homeless people.
I know that some people look down upon this act of kindness (including some city officials) stating that these kinds of actions only encourage them to be homeless and empower them not to better their situations. Some people will argue that these people ‘choose’ to be here because they could get a job, they could go work and could be doing something other than living on the street using up tax money. I disagree. Most are not there by choice, but because of bad circumstance after bad circumstance brought them to where they are today. I personally am not going to be the one to decide who is there by choice and who is not, and I am not going to refuse kindness and generosity when I don’t know their situation. I would rather error on the side of kindness than to hold back or withdraw an act of love towards a fellow human.
Another way we helped others was to participate in ‘Dress Like A Pirate Day’! On this occasion a local donut store, Krispy Kreme, gives away a dozen donuts to anyone dressed head-to-toe like a pirate. Three of us dressed up one year, going to three different Krispy Kremes and ended up with 108 free donuts! We also purchased another 3 boxes, giving us close to 150 donuts total, which we then took downtown to an intersection with heavy foot traffic that includes frequent visits by homeless individuals. Dressed as pirates still, we gave away the donuts to all passerby in the name of spreading joy for people...and filling their tummies!
Lastly on little things you can do to brighten a stranger’s day involves the pay it forward movement. I heard about this when a local radio station held a Pay It Forward Day (unsure if this was exactly how it was to be corrected), where they encouraged listeners picking up food from drive-thru restaurants to pay for the car behind them, no matter the cost. The next day, a barista called in and told the radio station that for four hours straight every car paid for the car behind it. It’s reasonable to assume not every person going to that Starbucks from 6AM-10AM that morning listens to the local Christian radio station, but started out with ONE PERSON (unsure if this was exactly how it was to be corrected) deciding they wanted to make a difference first, with no way of ever being repaid, with no guarantee of ever being acknowledged or given signs of gratitude - that this campaign of just wanting to make a difference in someone’s life continued. To put that idea out there was a small difference that made a larger difference. In this event, one person managed to encourage HUNDREDS of others to follow suit, pay it forward, and do the same for others as they would have done for them.
I write this today to try to follow suit, hoping that regular messages of encouragement will make participation in acts of compassion more commonplace, regular occurrences. Every person who has made a difference in the world has had someone else they admired or looked up to or respected that inspired them. You can be that inspiration. You can also be that leader. You CAN make a difference!