By Neal Lemery
“Be a reflection of what you like to receive. If you want love, give love. If you want truth, be truthful. If you want respect, give respect. You reap what you sow.”
I’m often frustrated by the news of the day, or the way life has become a real challenge to some of my friends and neighbors. Some days, I just pay lip service to my frustrations, and realize I’m whining, but then I realize I could take action.
Each one of us could do better, and I believe we all have the ability to bring about change. Do we simply lack the will to make the change, to do the right thing, and make our corner of the world a little better? Or is all the inaction because I haven’t found the magic wand to cure all the woes of the world?
“Put up or shut up,” as my grandmother would say when I’d just complain and whine.
Change is often hard, and requires will power to move ahead or change direction, to live our lives differently so that we don’t keep repeating old and dysfunctional patterns of behavior. We expect that of our kids and we expect that of others in our lives. We often don’t expect that of ourselves, though, and keep ourselves moving in the same old ruts, then wonder why life doesn’t improve. One counselor friend calls that “stinking thinking”.
Often, the real work of making a better world goes back to the basics, the simple things that changes lives. The action can be a simple as a short conversation, or the gift of some flowers or a book or a casserole dropped off at a friend’s house. When I’ve been the recipient of such small acts of kindness, I am often transformed and enlightened, and the clouds in my life are lifted. Opportunities open up, all because of a simple act of kindness. It is the power of feeling valued.
“I care” goes a very long way in brightening our world. Yes, some problems are monumental and need years of commitment to be remedied. But, the relationships to implement those solutions are based on acting on healthy and compassionate thoughts. The foundation of that work is in the details, the small things that add up and bring about real change.
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” Malala Yousa Fzai.
I recently read about Dolly Parton’s generosity. She grew up in an impoverished rural area of Tennessee. After talking with others about the county’s dismal high school graduation rates and literacy statistics, she took action. She engaged high school students to motivate them to graduate. She funded teacher aides for every first-grade class, after learning that having one on one tutoring and attention in the first grade dramatically reduced dropout rates and boosted academic and social success for teens. Every kid began to receive a free book every month. The cost was not astronomical, but her money was prudently invested in small things that transformed lives. That money, and, more significantly, that level of compassion and interest, made all the difference for all of those kids. Someone noticed and cared.
That generosity continues today, and those programs have been utilized across the country. That work addresses basic needs and advocates timeless values of individual attention, one on one relationships, self-worth, and putting books in the hands of eager young people.
We can all do that kind of work and give attention and kindness to those in need.
It can start with a few kind words in the line at the grocery store, or meeting for coffee with a friend who needs a compassionate ear. It’s a hand-written note put in the mail to someone who did a kind deed. Maybe the kindness wasn’t out of the ordinary, but you can at least notice it and tell someone they are appreciated. When you are the recipient of such kindness, “pay it forward” is genuine magic and greases the social machinery.
If you want to change the conversation, if you want to bring about real change, it can start with you.