With all of America’s turmoil, you might feel discouraged. Worn down. Like there’s nothing you can do that will really make a difference because the system is so big that whatever you do just won’t matter.
Not true. You can make a difference. But you might want to think a little closer to home. More than three dozen Facebook friends this week offered advice on ways to cure feelings that that you can’t be agents of change.
Say “please,” “thank you” and “hello” to strangers, one high school buddy shared. “Open and hold doors, help senior citizens with shopping and rides, volunteer for children’s programs and sports. Smile and have a positive attitude. Set a good example and let others see it.”
Retired advertising executive Peter Wertimer of Charleston added, “Volunteer to work pro bono for a worthy cause of some kind. Think about someone or something other than yourself or your own complicated life for awhile.”
A Columbia friend added, “This seems so simple, but I try to always compliment strangers as much as possible.”
Another guy chimed in, “Say ‘good morning’ to your spouse, coworkers and strangers. Hold the door for people. Ask people how things are going and see if you can help them in any way. Be a friend.”
In other words, engage with people you don’t know or who don’t look like you. Acknowledge their existence and show we’re all in this together. Brighten someone’s day.
Or simply inspire them, as one former state representative shared: “I told a little Latino girl this morning I hoped she would become president of the United States one day,”
West Ashley carpenter Michael Kaynard saw an employee in a big box store give a hug to a co-worker — and then to him. “Everyone had a big smile on their face. This act probably made a big impact on how we all felt the whole day.”
This is not huge, systemic change, but it makes people in communities feel more connected.
Other friends offer suggestions for intentional acts of kindness, as evidenced by one Atlanta runner: “I bring a reusable bag and EVERY DAY pick up 30 to 40 bottles and cans off the street and get them back into secondary use.”
“Ride local transit,” Mount Pleasant lawyer William Hamilton suggests. “You’ll meet people and find new ways to connect in your community. It’s cheap and fun.”
Tom Johnson, executive director of Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, said a lot of good never gets reported. His attraction, for example, is responsible for about $500,000 of related “giving” to the community each year through free tickets to people who donate blood or collect food, and free memberships to those who adopt pets. “I bet a lot of other companies are contributing more to the common good than we are aware of. Bad stuff makes the news.”
Others intentionally “pay it forward” by paying anonymously for something for someone.
“I pay for person’s fast food in line behind me in the drive through,” one college friend explained. “Give a $20 to the cashier at the grocery store to help offset the bill of the person behind me l and walk away quickly so I get no credit. Pay for young couple’s dinner at nicer restaurants when it looks like a stretch for them.”
Several people suggested becoming a guardian ad litem — a legal advocate for children in trouble. There’s some legal training involved, but it’s hugely rewarding, former reporter Bill Steiger of Tampa, Florida, shared: “The best part about being a guardian ad litem ... is the chance to make a one-on-one positive difference in a child’s life. Yes, I could give money to a charity or maybe serve meals to the homeless — all great gestures — but to sit down every month with a child and form a bond and help them solve problems, or just be a friend at a very traumatic time in their lives, is truly special.“
Columbia public relations executive Ashley Hunter has been a guardian for 15 years. “It is hard; it is emotional many times. But some days, you also see a happy ending for these children and these families.”
Pay it forward. Commit random acts of kindness. Or just be kind, intentionally.