The world is an amazing and screwed up place.
On one hand, communication happens instantaneously, travel is available everywhere, and we can find information at the touch of a key.
But on the other hand, a huge proportion of the world’s population lives in dire poverty, racism and sexism still exist and the environment is on the verge of collapse.
But what can little me do about any of this?
There are obvious ways that we can help, depending on which particular catastrophe we have a soft-spot for.
One could become an environmental lawyer who fights to reduce carbon emissions, or one could become a social worker who helps abused women.
But what if the chance to make such a career choice has slipped by, and here you are with three kids, a spouse and a mortgage to take care of? What can you possibly contribute to the world at large?
This frustration and guilt often comes to me while I am going through the motions of life.
I’m going to work, taking care of my son, making dinner and none of it is good enough.
None of it is revolutionary enough.
I’ve failed myself, my brethren and my planet. Maybe even God, too. But then a sentence comes back to me.
Bahá’u’lláh, the 19th century spiritual teacher, said this:
“The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct.”
This sentence illustrates the extent to which we can all contribute to the world at large.
And all we have to do is concentrate on what we do and how we do it.
Instead of feeling down about not having performed some grand task, we can focus on the little things we can do for people: help a friend move house, call a friend after she lost her job, use recycled toilet paper, buy fair-trade products…
What’s more, we can increase the quality of these actions by focusing on the way we do them—by being present when we act, by acting out of love, by acting with kindness, by not expecting anything in return, by not seeking recognition for our actions.
This alignment of character and deed, of being and doing, I believe, can have immense influence on the world at large.
When we embody and enact the values that we truly believe in, instead of paying mere lip service to them, we become active agents of change.
What seem like small acts of kindness, when seen from a grand perspective, are actually significant stepping stones towards progress.
Like ripples in a pond, the effects of these humble actions will be far reaching; they may not make the evening news but they will make a difference in the world.
How do such little and seemingly insignificant actions make a difference?
Changing the world can happen from a variety of angles.
From the ‘higher’ levels, there are legal and political reforms that need to take place that will affect society. And there are also international relations to strengthen that will insure that these reforms take effect globally.
On the ‘lower’ levels, there are changes in the individual and family that also need to take place.
What’s more is that neither dimension exists in separation; they are both connected, so that the structures of society affect the way we live our lives, but equally so, the way we live our lives affects the structures of society.
How does this happen? Most visibly, it happens in a democratic society where the character of an individual is reflected in their voting choices.
And less apparent is the influence we all have on each other. Influence which then extends to school, the work-place, media and every other social space.
Although intangible, the circle of influence is real.
The influence grows stronger as more people become united in a collective endeavor of consciously becoming positive agents of change.
Of course there are the higher levels and specialized fields of work that can contribute to the world in very tangible and immediate ways. It is great if we have the chance or opportunity to contribute to the world through such means.
But for many of us, it may not be possible. So if we really want to make a difference in the world, we need to look at how we live our lives. We need to make an earnest effort to be the best we can be.
Not in the conventional sense of achieving worldly success, but in terms of our individual character and the actions we perform in everyday life.
By doing this we can all be one of the unassuming heroes who silently helps usher in a better world.
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Apprentice Editor: Emma Ruffin / Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Kevin Meredith/Flickr