Can you make a difference?

My previous post How much of a meliorist are you? attracted many comments and much lively discussion, including comparisons of seemingly pessimistic or optimistic views of the future and the validity of each.

This discussion surprised me as my intention in writing the post was not to delve into the damage that we humans have wreaked upon the world, but simply to express my belief that we humans, should we desire to do so, have the power to improve the world. We may not be able to change everything we would like to see changed, but we can make a start within our own circle of influence.

Few-will-have-the - Robert F. Kennedy

Or, in the words of Michael Jackson, one can “Look in the mirror and make a change!”

My chosen avenue for making a difference is education; through maintaining my own interest in learning, through attempts to keep alive a love of learning and a curiosity about our world and others, and through improving learning opportunities for others throughout their lives beginning at birth (or earlier!).

The contribution each of us makes is unique and reflects our own values and life choices. I am grateful to others who help me grow in my understanding of what motivates and drives us, what excites our imaginations and stimulates our curiosity, and what propels us towards choices for improving our individual and combined futures.

Its-the-action-not-the - Mahatma Gandhi

Among those who encourage my learning and stretch my thinking are you, my wonderful readers, who selflessly contribute thoughts and ideas to extend my understanding. To you all, my teachers, I express my great gratitude.

Thank you

While I may often fall short of the mark and need to make frequent reminders to myself, these are just a few ways I try to make my little spot in the world a better place:

Smiling

Being friendly towards those I engage with throughout the day

Being polite

Being kind, sometimes randomly and anonymously without requiring thanks

Listening attentively, to understand and without interrupting or interjecting

Accepting graciously and without whingeing and whining

Finding humour in situations which enable me to laugh, especially at myself

Changing behaviours to reduce my impact on the environment

Seeking ways to ease the burdens of others

Accepting and encouraging others to be themselves

Recognising and accepting my ‘mistakes’ and shortcomings, and those of others

What about you? What do you do to make your little spot in the world a better place? Please share your ideas so we can all learn from your example.

At times in my life I have been told that I take life too seriously. At other times I have been told that I don’t take it seriously enough. I think life should be about enjoyment and fun, so I’m going to turn the seriousness of this post on its head and leave you with another quote, this time by A.H. Weiler:

“Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn’t have to do it himself.”

I welcome your feedback. Please share your thoughts and ideas about any aspect of this post, whether you agree with me or not!

24 thoughts on “Can you make a difference?

  1. Pingback: Books for Prisoners | book word

  2. Cultivating Questioners

    Norah, I just love your blog! It is so nice to have someone to read who consistently brings an optimistic, positive outlook to what can be a very difficult field.

    You already listed some of the ways that I try to make my spot a little bit brighter: trying to sincerely listen, making conscious choices as a consumer, and trying to be understanding of the actions of other people.

    I think that the biggest thing that I do, though, is try to be a voracious learner at every opportunity. The more that I learn, the more that I find myself able to understand and empathize with the people that I encounter. (I also continue to realize how much I do not know, as the old saying about learning goes.)

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Nicole. I really appreciate your comment. I’m pleased you enjoy reading my blog, as I enjoy reading yours! I agree entirely with you about learning. There is never enough time for all the learning there is to do! Surely with a little more understanding and empathy will come a little more acceptance and tolerance; and who knows, maybe even peace? Or am I being too optimistic? I am a meliorist though, and believe that we humans do have the ability to make things better. Whether we do or not is another thing. If we all tried, as you suggest, to make our own spots a little brighter, what a different world it could be. 🙂

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  3. lorilschafer

    Well, I hate to sound like the cynic, but this puts me in mind of an old Simpsons episode. Marge successfully campaigns against eliminating cartoon violence, which, in every conceivable way, changes the world for the better. Then a civic group approaches her, asking her to represent them in a bid to ban a local showing of Michelangelo’s David on the grounds of obscenity. She refuses on the grounds of freedom of expression. The group responds, “How can you be in favor of one form of free speech and not of another?” Well, of course, she can’t. The ultimate punchline? “I guess one person really can make a difference – but most of the time, she probably shouldn’t.”

    I think about that a lot when I see people fighting for causes. Every major movement is begun by individuals who firmly believe in the rightness and justness of their way of thinking – and that’s as true of National Socialism as it is of Democracy. Change can be dangerous as well as inspired. Indeed, perhaps the only safe methods of “making a difference” are the ways you describe here, in the little, day-to-day behaviors that make life more pleasant for the people around us. There is perhaps nothing so cheering as a loved one’s laughter, and nothing so infectious as a stranger’s smile.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Lori, I have been thinking a lot about your comment over the last couple of days and have come back to reply a few times but have been unsure of how best to do so. Your comment has really resonated with me, particularly the Simpsons story’s punchline. I haven’t ever seen much of the Simpsons and definitely not a complete episode but the dilemma expressed through this story is one that I frequently ponder. I value things such as kindness, freedom of speech and tolerance etc. But tolerance means tolerating different views and I do struggle with that one when it comes to things such as using violence to solve a problem. I would like to rid the world of violence. But is that just me wishing to impose my values upon others? I think it’s a good value. Shouldn’t everyone agree with me? (That’s a bit tongue in cheek and, if not rhetorical, not really a serious question.) Unfortunately these differences of opinion are what has driven violent means throughout our history. I hope that Steven Pinker was right in believing that we are becoming less violent. We’ve still got a long way to go though (in my opinion). I know in my own family’s history, each generation is progressively becoming less violent towards each other; and schools are no longer using corporal punishment, both of which are good things. But the sound of a loved one’s laughter and a stranger’s friendly smile can go a long way to making each day more pleasant. I think those are good places to start. Thanks for depth in your comment. I think it is really one for the philosophers though. 🙂

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      1. lorilschafer

        Yes, tolerance is tricky, isn’t it? I really want to people to be able to express themselves freely, but I also want them to have opinions that I want to hear expressed! I think you’re absolutely right about the general trend of humanity towards non-violence, though. When you look at the course of history, the way people behaved towards one another even just a few centuries ago, it’s horrifying. Not that there isn’t still violence on a massive scale in many places, but in general I think our tolerance for it has seriously diminished. It’s no longer very common for cultures to earn a living by pillage and plunder, and most of us, I think, get queasy at the mere thought of killing another person, whatever the circumstances. I would also argue that our tolerance for cruelty and the sight of human suffering has vanished in most modern countries. Why, in the book about Australian history, I was reading, the author describes at some length how the prisoners were brutally lashed, tortured, and forced to wear heavy irons for sometimes years at a time. This was thought to be the proper way to deal with them. This was less than 200 years ago, which is a relatively short span when you consider millions of years of human history, yet already today it sounds shockingly violent. Not that our penal systems today are perfect, either – far from it – but there’s really no comparison when you talk about the level of what was considered “acceptable” violence. So I agree that there’s a trend, and it’s definitely in a positive direction – let’s hope it continues 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thank you for sharing those positive thoughts, Lori. Those convict days were certainly brutal.I don’t think I can add anything further to what you have said. “We” have come a long way, but there’s a ways to go yet! 🙂

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  4. Sarah Brentyn

    I love this post (and all your quotes) but what really struck me is your simple list: smile, be kind, laugh, be polite, listen, help others. Geez, Norah, these should be so obvious–so basic–and yet I feel there can’t be enough of these reminders out there.

    As for my little spot in the world… I do many things. The biggest one, I think, is that we have been teaching both our children since they were very young. We include them in everything. For example, one of the things we do is donate to local homeless shelters. When we do, the kids go shopping with us, choose items, sort and bag them, and come with us to the shelter to drop the items off.

    Not to discount the daily common courtesies that my kids have been absorbing since they were tiny. Saying please and thank you, holding the door for someone behind you, treating others with respect, etc. And we love RAKs. 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks so much for your comment Sarah, and joining in with other examples to show how easy Random Acts of Kindness can be. I think that sometimes in the rush of daily life the ‘common’ courtesies can be forgotten and become not-so-common any more. I guess my list was rather simplified but I wanted to show that these small pleasantries can make a big difference to someone else’s life. We never know the effects of our actions, so it’s better to try for positive, rather than negative, effects.
      I love your idea of involving your children in donating to local people in need. Including children from a young age is a great way of developing compassion for others. 🙂

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      1. Sarah Brentyn

        Exactly. Common courtesies aren’t all that common anymore. (Case in point, just had an older gentleman drop a door in my face yesterday.)
        That’s why I love the simplicity of your list. Like you said, it shows how small actions can make a big difference. If only more people acted on these simple “pleasantries”, the ripple effect would be rather stunning.

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  5. Annecdotist

    I agree with Gandhi – although I do tend to distance myself from his attitude to drinking one’s urine as well as the fact that he gave his wife little choice about whether she wanted to join in. Try to do what’s right because it’s right, or more usually doing what you think is right because it can be so hard to tell.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Anne. I agree with you on all counts. Must say I didn’t know about the urine story though. I’m not sure whether to thank you for informing me or not! 🙂

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  6. writersideup

    Norah, I didn’t participate in the ‘meliorist” discussion, largely because I am the polar opposite of that. I do, with all my heart, believe that we all have the ability to make a positive impact on people (and possibly the world at large), that actually being my greatest passion and driving force to do so in my own way and for my specific reasons. BUT—as far as improving “the world,” I will never believe that’s possible because this world isn’t run by the well-meaning, selfless souls—it will always be the self-serving humans in charge until something greater changes that. I didn’t want to express that “negative” take to the discussion, but I don’t see it as negative—just realistic : / Regardless of that fact (well, I see it as fact), I can’t help but live my life with the intent to help people and have a positive impact.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for commenting Donna Marie. I love that you live your life with the intention of having a positive impact. Sharing your love of literacy through your blog is a great way of doing that! And I always appreciate your positive support on my blog! 🙂

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      1. writersideup

        Thanks, Norah 🙂 And honestly, my blogs are a small way, I think. It’s through the day-to-day type stuff, whether on or offline, that has the greatest impact, I think, and I keep hope that my writing (should I get published) will have impact, too 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          We may never know the impact of our actions, including the potential of our blog to reach much further afield than our daily actions. Together they are powerful tools for change, no matter how small or imperceptible the changes may seem at the time.

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  7. TanGental

    I often wonder, if we could capture the innocent wonder of children and hold it, how the world would work. Maybe we need the driven gloom of ambition that adulthood gives us to improve our lot – to take us out of the Shadowlands envisaged by CS Lewis (albeit he was viewing things from a Christian perspective, I think this applies to a lot of people of religion or of none) – but what if we stayed content with the joy of discovery that is so natural for children. Misery isn’t their natural state; that is something that life experiences, social conditioning brings. Maybe our goal should be to decouple childhood innocence from innocent joy and find ways to keep the latter as we see the end of the former. Why is it a given that there is a loss of innocence If we could keep the joys that are associated with it. Pie in the sky I suppose.

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  8. Bec

    Hi Nor, it’s great to see the conversation continued! The final quote you offered is very ponderous, I like it. As a teacher you have certainly taught me that doing the right thing is the right thing to do (!!), but left it up to me to work out my own definition for what is the ‘right thing’. And I’m just one of your students. How many others have you influenced over the years? Thousands? (Is that obliquely calling you old? Not intended!!) It’s nice to imagine a world where all teachers have your optimism and commitment to making change through one’s own actions – think of the students they would be shaping. Hopefully we are on that pathway!

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