Changes, Big and Small

What a crazy couple of months! The earthquake and nuclear problems in Japan, the death of bin Laden, a stolen election in Canada, and a ton of other across-the-board craziness and tragedy around the world that makes it hard to stay in a positive frame of mind sometimes. I'm not exactly certain what a hand basket is, but at times like this it's easy to sit back and feel like we're about to ride one on a trip straight to Hell.

In times like this, it can be hard for me to avoid lapsing into cynicism. Some people may refer to cynicism as "reality", but I remain convinced that there is just a staggering amount of beauty and good in the world. It's hard to see sometimes, because bad things seem to happen on such a macro scale while good and beautiful things are, well, more localized. So when we look out and around, the bad may seem to be omnipresent; it is only when we look closer, to our own families and friends or within ourselves, that we can begin to feel centered enough to see the beauty and goodness of the world.

The question for me is how to take that micro beauty and turn it into macro-sized feelings that we can share with many others. How can I help someone else see the positive side of an issue? How can I help someone else see things more consciously? How can I help people help others, so we can start a movement to be the change we wish to see in the world?

Or more appropriately, how can we do this for each other?

Some of us might choose to start a non-profit to help a specific group of people or support a specific cause. Some of us write our elected representatives, and try to help share information with others so we can help move our governments in the right direction. Some of us join the ministry or enter politics or become professional health care providers of some sort. Some of us write books, articles or blogs, or even speak at conferences or organize community groups.

And some of us probably think that we don't really ever do any of those things. We might think that the calling to help other people is reserved to people with hearts larger than ours, to people with a capacity for patience and love far beyond what we feel capable of giving. We may feel powerless to really impact the world in any way, that we simply need to focus on ourselves and our families and trust that we'll make it through with our spirits relatively intact. We may feel to afraid, too weak, too insignificant, too useless to make a difference.

What. A. Crock.Of. Shit.

We may not all be able to write, or speak, or vote, or volunteer to work at an NGO or run a non-profit, or do any of the thousands of other things that people do each day to have a positive impact on those around them. But we can do other things, and in fact we do do other things. Humans as a species are coded to look out for each other, gifted with affiliation and compassion, overflowing with DNA that turns us into Momma or Papa Bear at a moment's notice. We have an innate need to enable others, to look out for our neighbors, to protect our children, to love our friends. It's in our blood, and we have no choice. Oh, we can talk about how we don't care, we can beat ourselves up about not caring enough . . . but I guarantee that each of us, at various points in our lives, have helped someone in some way. We have listened, provided advice, taught. We have laughed when someone needed us to, and cried when they needed that instead. We have provided financial, emotional, or other support. We have been tender. We have smiled, we have hugged. We have told the truth.

These may not appear to be earth-shattering, but then again everything that does shatter the earth is simply something large that is made up of smaller parts. We don't have to plot to change the world in order to change it. We don't have to plan to influence thousands of people in order to influence thousands of people. We don't have to figure out how to move mountains in order to move them.

We can start small, by doing things that come naturally to us. And bit by bit, these small considerations and kindnesses, these seemingly small and insignificant efforts to move the needle, can and usually do spread more quickly and deeply than we ever could have imagined.

I have recently committed to doing three additional things to try and spread some dignity, respect, and love in the world, in the hopes that these things will become so contagious that they will spread through people's hearts and minds like wildfire and help us move the needle. They may seem small, but they can and do have a tremendous impact.

I am trying to smile at one stranger every day, maybe even more than one if it starts to go well. I see so many people who are desperately in need of the sense of warmth and connection that a smile conveys. Personally, I have never failed to be soothed, or even inspired, by a kind and sincere smile. As my ex used to say, "if you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours!" It costs me so little, and means so much.

I am trying to eliminate the phrase "love you!" from my vocabulary, and replace it with "I love you!" instead. When someone says "love you" to me, it helps me feel loved, which is great. But when someone says "I love you", that tells me that person loves me; it's a direct connection between they and I, with no conditions or efforts to disown the sentiment or emotion. We are already desensitized in so many ways, and that distance has in many ways made it easier for us to stay just a bit further apart from each other. No more. If I love you, you'll hear it, and I hope you'll feel it, too.

I am trying to stop multi-tasking when interacting with my children. No more surfing the web while half-watching them play a game, no more watching TV while they're trying to talk to me. One child (or two, or three, or whatever), one adult, one focus, one connection. I owe them that and so much more.

Those are mine, new changes I can make to help the world become a slightly better place in addition to whatever else I may try to do from time to time. Start with one or two, try them for a while, change them if you need to. It doesn't need to planned or concerted or anything else other than genuine. And maybe we will make some positive changes but never really come to understand the full impact they had on the world. Maybe.

But maybe we can start with something small and help each other feel better about the world we live in and the our place in it. Seems worth the chance to me.


  1. Excellent, Jeff. Thanks for this. I fight cynicism each day. What gets me out of bed is communicating about the small changes each of us can make. It may seem like only governments or corporations can make change that is worthwhile, but I do believe it all starts from the bottom up. And then we reach the tipping point.

  2. I love this post, Jeff. I can't overstate how valuable it is to make sure you're surrounded by love simply by making sure everyone around you knows they're loved. <3

  3. Yes! I so need to stop multi-tasking when I'm trying to be with the kids. I end up not doing anything well. And I never thought about the love-you/I-love-you distinction. Very true. Thanks for the reminders. Here's to doing better tomorrow...