In these crazy times, many of us are asking ourselves, “What can we do??”The answer: “Give of yourself, to others.” One person CAN make a difference.
I ran into a friend today. Our chat ran to some odd places (in a good way!) We talked about what various social issues, issues that need rethinking, reconsideration: Young people and higher education; homelessness; insight into race and racism; disadvantaged youth.
Quite a heavy load to contemplate on a beautiful sunny morning in Santa Rosa!
“I don’t know what to do,” my friend said. “I don’t know how to help.”
I shared some of my experiences as a volunteer. in hospice, and grief support; as a volunteer reader in my kids’ elementary classes; a visiting artist in a program for high school students who were struggling with emotional- and mental-health issues.
Soon he remembered something he’d done awhile back, offering support for a computer technology he has lots of skill in. He shared a few things I often felt as a volunteer, things I know other volunteers have felt.
So, in no particular order, thoughts for how you can help the world be a better place for others.
Share a skill. Almost all of us have expertise in something. Find a group to share that with: Youngsters, students (high school, college), newbies in your field, seniors. It may be drawing, computer technology, writing, jewelry-making.
Share an interest. Do you like reading? Share a story with someone. Do you play an instrument? Start a small music group. Do you collect rocks? Share that passion. You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be willing to encourage others’ interests.
Share your time. An hour or two a week, or even a month, spent in the company of an engaged adult, can mean the world to shut-ins, students, event organizers, museums, outreach groups.
Share your uniqueness. Young people don’t need you to be awesomely expert or talented. It’s enough to show them what that looks like, to be someone employed in work they care about, who have hobbies and interests they enjoy. It may open a door, or a whole new world to them.
Here are things to be aware of:
It’s okay to volunteer for something you really like. For some reason, volunteering/sharing an interest or skill, can seem not worthy–because you’re having too much fun. It’s like we feel we have to give in a way that hurts. That doesn’t make sense, does it? Or as my wonderful, smartsy daughter always says, “Would you rather volunteer to do something you hate?!” Er….nope. But it’s weird to realize how guilty we feel if we enjoy our outreach. Lose the guilt. You’re doing it right.
It’s okay to share something small. So you volunteer to sit and listen to a second-grader read a book. You think, “I’m really not working very hard here….” Well, you just freed up the classroom teacher to work with another kid. You lightened someone’s load. It’s enough.
It’s enough to simply be present. One of the hardest concept to wrap my head around in my hospice volunteer training was, we can’t fix things for our clients. But what we can be is…well, to be present. Many clients found it comforting to simply have another human being with them. Sometimes we talked, sometimes laughed. Sometimes we simply sit with them, and hold their hand. (And some didn’t want their hand held, but they still felt our presence, and were comforted.) And it wasn’t about being there when they died. In fact, the greatest gift for some was to give them the privacy they craved when their time came. It’s weird, but they let you know.
Give some money. You don’t need to donate millions of dollars, or thousands of dollars, or even a $100. Instead, give a homeless person a buck or two (or five), with no judgment about what they need to console themselves from their life on the street. Yesterday I read an article about helping the homeless. The volunteer said, “Try laying your head on the sidewalk. See how vulnerable you feel. Then have some compassion.” It’s hard to fix your life when you have nothing. If someone needs a beer, or a cigarette to numb the pain, I no longer feel competent to judge that.
Give a little something. If helping someone personally still feels awkward, donate a few bucks to your favorite charitable foundations.
If you can’t spare the money, or time, give something else. Shop at thrift stores that serve social causes: the homeless, the elderly, kids, hospice, people without healthcare.
Or donate your old books, clothing, equipment.
Pick up a few extra cans of soup when you shop for groceries, and donate them at the door. One meal is a lot, to that one person.
Some of our greatest social challenges in the years ahead will take big steps, huge effort, giant leaps in understanding, compassion, campaigning, commitment.
It will also take rethinking how we we view the problems.
In the meantime, small steps will get us somewhere, eventually, especially if millions of us make those steps.
Last, but not least, put yourself in the mindset of simply being kind.
You’ll see the difference not only in what you do, but what you feel. Others will feel it, too.
You’ll be glad you did.