“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
This is a post I update every month. Many of the ideas come from your comments and suggestions.
But, I almost didn’t update the post this month. There has been so much conflict and tragedy in the world that I didn’t know if highlighting acts so small made light of the massive needs. Then I was reminded of the quote above. Every act of service matters.
I’m not suggesting that these quick ideas are where your efforts should stop. I’m just offering a place to start (or restart) your path to service. And some great ways to practice love in a world that desperately needs it.
50 simple acts of service
- Act! Move beyond sympathetic thoughts. Vow to do one small thing (donate, advocate, etc.) to address a problem that seems hopeless.
- Cut a neighbors grass.
- Donate school supplies.
- Offer support to a grieving soul.
- Share a piece wisdom that only comes with age.
- Make a call and check on an elderly family member.
- Laugh long and hard. Laugh loud enough for others to hear you.
- Give someone a gift you made yourself.
- Say no. Knowing you can set limits will give you the confidence to serve more.
- Take a walk with a loved one. It serves the body and soul.
- Admit you’re biased. We all are. Facing that we have biases (racial, class, religion, etc) helps us to better address our issues and to serve more sincerely.
- Loan someone a book you love.
- Don’t let it sit in a drawer. Give your old cell phone and chargers away or donate them to a charity.
- Treat a pet with kindness and respect.
- Share public service information (traffic detours, power outages, flood warnings etc.) via social media.
- Turn off and unplug electronics you aren’t using.
- Pick up trash that wasn’t properly discarded.
- Give someone more credit than they deserve.
- Hear gossip and refuse to spread it.
- Believe someone’s dream is possible. And tell them. They need the support.
- Fight indifference. Let yourself feel sadness when you see a homeless person.
- Tell someone you forgive them. And mean it.
- Put a Band-Aid in your wallet to give away when needed.
- Contact an elected official via social media to quickly advocate for a cause you believe in.
- Call someone you usually text and tell them you just wanted to hear their voice.
- Pick up an extra item or two from the grocery store to donate to your local food bank.
- Make a small online donation to a charity you support.
- Practice empathy. Take a few minutes and imagine the struggles of someone you know.
- Listen carefully. Many people yearn to be heard.
- Thank a teacher for their service.
- Tell someone a joke.
- Save someone from a work conversation they aren’t enjoying. “I hate to interrupt, but can I borrow you for two minutes.”
- Actually take your reusable bags into the store with you.
- Actually take your reusable cup into Starbucks with you.
- Pray for someone.
- Teach someone something. Anything.
- Text someone a specific compliment. (e.g. “I admire how much patience you have with me.”)
- Give someone you love your undivided attention.
- Hold a door open and wait while multiple people pass through.
- Take time to write a supportive comment to someone on Facebook.
- Hug someone.
- Share any online article that raises awareness of a service need.
- Let that busy person behind you go ahead of you in line.
- Leave change in a vending machine.
- Pay the toll for the person behind you.
- Thank a solider for their service.
- Discuss with a younger relative a piece of your family history.
- Cheer loudly for someone else’s kid.
- Give away an extra umbrella on a rainy day.
- If you love them, tell them.
What are some others?
I resigned from my job this week. It feels odd to even be sharing that. But this may be the best place to do it. I often feel as if we’re on an intimate journey together. So I want to be transparent about what my journey looks like right now. I hope you’ll do the same.
I’m leaving a good job. I knew where my career path was leading. And I felt supported. I don’t take lightly what a blessing it was to have that job (or any job).
The decision is made, but it still feels risky and sometimes foolish. That is why this post is about the concept of risk. Risk is on my mind. To me, risk feels like a series of questions that begs each and every one of us to answer. If we don’t take time to contemplate the questions, our lives will still reflect the answers. Even in the most conservative of gambles we reveal our relationship with risk. Ask yourself:
- What should I be willing to risk?
- When is the right time to take a risk?
- Why should I be willing to take a risk?
- Who is worth taking a risk on?
- Am I strong enough to risk failing?
- Do I have enough faith to lean on when I’m afraid?
There is one distinct pattern I’ve noticed about the readers here – you instinctively know that you are needed in this world. You know that you have powerful gifts inside and a destiny to follow. Some of you definitely know what your gifts are already. Others are just beginning your journey to reveal them and walk into your purpose. I’m somewhere in the middle.
Either way, the journey to live a life of service requires that we get comfortable with risk. Whether that is risking emotional vulnerability or risking financial security. Risk takes many forms and what’s right for me definitely may not be right for you. But whenever you feel the pull of purpose and the greater call to serve, you will likely feel the pang of risk. And you may hear risk’s questions being whispered all around. I hope you will take the time to deliberately and thoughtfully answer them for yourself.
What are you risking right now?
Last week, I wrote a post about caring. It was about the tracking of our interests in news stories and how that data reflects what we support or care about. My point was that the simple and seemly insignificant act of caring about a social issue can actually help create tangible change. If you’d like to read that post you can find it here.
I realize now that I wrote these posts out of order. Though this post will be Part II on caring, it really should have been Part I. I should have started by talking about caring in a more personal way. Because broadly caring for others is core to serving, but more importantly it is core to being fulfilled and happy.
Here are the two things I should have pointed out last week:
Caring will teach you how to identify your feelings.
What are you feeling right now? Can you tell? If you’re like most of us, it is often hard to pinpoint exactly what we feel. Happy? Sad? Bored? I get pretty irritable when I’m hungry so I have to watch that closely. Knowing what we feel is the first step to managing our requests. We have to know what we feel if we hope to accurately express what we need. Sometimes what we need is food, but it can also be something more important like respect. We have to express what we need if we hope to have others honor that. And we have to know who will and won’t honor our needs if we want to have the right support team in our lives.
Caring about strangers in a news story helps you get familiar with your feelings. It helps remind you what sad feels like for you. It helps you pinpoint how anger builds for you. Are you familiar with your pang of hopelessness? What about your version of fear? Are you familiar with how you experience these things in your mind, in your body and in your heart? You can’t think through the answers to these questions. You have to feel them yourself. Caring about strangers gives you a chance to experience these feelings in a more controlled fashion. If it’s too much at first, turn the TV off or switch to another webpage. Try again later. But remember how it made you feel.
Caring for strangers is a low risk way to increase your tolerance for being vulnerable.
If you want to have strong, amazing and dynamic relationships you will need to get comfortable with vulnerability. Period. This is not negotiable no matter how much you may like feeling safe and being in control. Do you like the idea of having an awesome marriage, “to the grave” friendships or crazy-loving family bonds? If so, you will HAVE to get comfortable with the idea of caring deeply for people that can and will hurt you. You will have to get comfortable with letting the actions and choices of others have an impact on your emotional wellbeing. It isn’t easy. But it is through vulnerability that love and trust grow.
The good news is you can actually build up your tolerance to vulnerability every time you chose to care about anything or anyone you can’t control. Try this the next time you watch the news or read an article about human struggle. Don’t just take in the information analytically, pause and try to feel yourself caring for the individuals. Imagine if it was you or someone you love. Let their faces stay in your mind. Let them in fully knowing that you can’t fix things and you probably can’t help them. Let that vulnerability in. Then say a prayer for them and move on. Every time you do this, you will get more comfortable with accepting vulnerability. This will serve you when being vulnerable has higher more personal stakes. And it will make you more at ease when you need to choose between opening up or playing it safe.
Ok, this is my second case for caring and I hope it’s a strong one. I sincerely believe that caring broadly will serve you more than you might imagine. Trust me, it’s not a waste of your time.
Do you have a better case for caring?
I’m all ears.
A day ago, a close friend posted two very different status updates. One post was about the astounding level of violence in the streets of Chicago last weekend. The other was about getting her day kicked-off with iced coffee from Starbucks. Same person. Same day. Which post do you think was most popular? If I’m being honest, I’d have to admit to enjoying the Starbucks post more. It was fun, light and relatable. I’d just left Starbucks too.
The Chicago post made me sad and left me feeling helpless. I scanned by it at first and only came back to it out of guilt. I knew what the story would say before I read it – 1. Random violence in poor neighborhood. 2. Things are getting worse. 3. Many dead. It was not in any way uplifting. And I read nothing that made me hope things would get better. Was that a waste of time? Was that a pointless drain on my positive outlook? I say no, and here’s why.
The case for caring.
Media outlets, politicians and marketers have become increasingly sophisticated at noticing what we care about and then feeding it back to us (again and again). For the purpose of this post when I say “we” I mean the vast middle class that everyone hears so much about during election season. They notice that we care about celebrity stories. We care about feel-good rescue efforts. We care about the untimely deaths of people that are supposed to live in safe areas and aren’t supposed to die young. We care about strong beliefs and the showmanship of political fights. We definitely care about consumer products (hence the Starbucks post). And you better believe we care about anything that involves winning big from sports to business.
So that’s what we do care about. What’s something we don’t care about?
We don’t care about people dying in poor drug-infested neighborhoods. I won’t pretend that race isn’t a factor too, but that’s a different post for a different day. The urban death toll story has been told a million times so in many ways we are desensitized to it. And we find it hard to relate to the victims. They may have been involved in committing crimes. They may just be poor which means they have yet to “boot strap” their way to more safety and success. This implies that being poor is mostly their own fault and clearly not how we would be living if in their shoes. Again, we can’t relate nor are we trying to. Yes we feel bad, but no we don’t want to read stories about it. No, we don’t want to click on that link about young people dying in senseless ways on a weekend we spent celebrating and eating hot dogs. It is an emotional drain to care and our caring doesn’t seem to help anything.
They know what we care about.
People in power (within business, media, and politics) spend hours tracking and analyzing the numerical data on what we care about. They know what we click on and what we don’t. They closely track what we tweet on and post on. They know if we share a link or simply “Like” it. They even know if we stayed on the page long enough to have actually read the article or if we quickly left. They may know if we ran any follow up searches on the topic. They know if more people than normal are sending emails with the word “Chicago” in it. Thanks to Google Analytics, I’ll know if this ends up being my most unpopular post yet.
I realize we can’t pay attention and care about every issue. What’s happening in Chicago is just an example of what mass indifference looks like and how it spreads. It perfectly illustrates how a holiday massacre can become just a minor national story. It isn’t my intention to imply that urban violence deserves more focus from you than a service area you may care more about. My main point here is that caring is tracked closely and caring makes a difference. Whether or not people care about an issue has a dramatic effect on the resources and public attention given to finding a solution. And our small acts that demonstrate we care about a topic (reading and sharing articles, liking posts, and engaging in thoughtful dialogue) matter. They matter a lot.
It’s a struggle to care. As the title says, it is often uncomfortable and sometimes inconvenient. But every little bit counts. Have you closed your emotional doors to the plight of strangers, current events or problems that seem unsolvable? If so, I’d encourage you to try to open them again. I’d encourage you to fight ambivalence and to care more freely and more broadly. Caring does matter and they’ll notice when you do. Numbers don’t lie.
Agree or disagree?
Is caring worth the hassle?
If I had to describe July with just one word it would be “indulgence”. That word might surprise you as July is a month of skimpier clothes and lighter meals. But for some, July is also a month of vacations and celebrations. It is a month of summer parties and outdoor concerts. The month of July may find you blessed to be by a pool, beach or grill. There is almost no end to the wonderfully indulgent thoughts that pop into my head when thinking about the month of July.
It’s a great thing to take pleasure in the indulgences of life. I highly recommend taking joy from your summer surroundings. You may also want to consider channeling some of that joy into service. July poses a few unique opportunities to serve our communities.
- Pay attention and get help. Try to look up from your phone (not as easy as it sounds) when walking near parked cars this summer. You may see a child or animal that was left unattended in a dangerously hot car. It’s a small effort that may prevent a tragic story.
- Donate to your local food bank. The summer break is the busiest time of year for many food banks (not the holidays). More families are in need of additional meals that their children previously received during the school day. To take it a step further, you and/or your children can run a mini-food drive by passing out flyers and collection bags. You can then retrieve your neighbors food for one large donation.
- Drag out fall clothes. Do you have school-age kids? Do your kids have fall clothes (jeans, shirts, etc.) in good condition that no longer fit them? If so, make a point to donate them this month. That allows time for organizations to get clothes ready for August back-to-school needs.
- Not everyone has protection from the heat. July is a perfect time to make donations to the organizations that set up cooling centers in your community. Your donations will support centers that will save lives this month.
- Don’t forget to check in. Stop by and check on the elderly or anyone that you think may be living without relief from the hot weather. Even if they don’t need help, knowing you care goes a long way.
What are some other ways to serve in July?
“I wanna dedicate this song to all the lovers tonight. And I expect that might be the whole world. Because everybody needs something or someone to love.”
– Bobby Womack
If you’re a fan of R&B music the quote above is likely familiar. You are also probably aware that Bobby Womack who famously sang “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” passed away recently. I realize that you may not be familiar with the song, but I wanted to highlight these opening lines. They’ve always been a reminder to me that human beings have a universal drive to give love to others.
Sometimes the concept of being independent can feel in direct conflict with the interdependent nature of loving people we can’t control. Choosing to love others can be scary and it requires giving up some of our emotional independence and security. But love is by far the most powerful emotion. It drives us to action and it’s contagious. The more you choose to love, the broader the group you are willing to love becomes. You may find yourself feeling compassion for complete strangers. And you may find yourself willing to fight for them.
When I think about the American story of independence, it is not a story of “going it alone”. And it is not a story of putting one’s own interest first. It is a story of hope, trust, faith and teamwork. It is a story that has love’s voice all over it. Often with historical figures (like George Washington for example), we forget that he was simply a human being. We forget that he had to conquer some very real fears to stand up for freedom. He like many throughout history chose to fight not just for himself. He fought for the many people around him and the generations that would come behind them. So when we celebrate independence here in the United States, we don’t just celebrate being free to survive and prosper on our own terms. We also celebrate being free to make choices that make the lives of others and the lives that come after us better. And there are many in this country and all around the world that still need our help in fighting. I hope to keep them on my mind tomorrow as I celebrate independence. And I hope this holiday weekend will leave you refreshed with a renewed strength to serve.
Happy 4th of July!
Who are you fighting for?
I’m late getting this post out because I spent my writing time having a firm conversation with my soon-to-be 12 year-old son. It was a conversation that almost all parents have at some point. I’ll call it the “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” talk. Often how we say things makes a greater impression than the words and points themselves. By the time we reach adulthood, we tend to be well aware of this fact. We may actively try to monitor things like tone, body language and facial expressions in hopes that our communications will be received more favorably. This is critically important because it’s almost impossible to serve others if we aren’t able to connect and communicate well.
I was passionate about explaining this to my son. I pointed out the visual cues that revealed his mixed emotions. And I explained how those visual cues created more hostility in me than his words alone warranted. But I’ve been thinking about it more since then and in hindsight I think I missed an opportunity to teach him something additional. Correcting his tone or body language is important when showing respect, but it can also lead to suppressing the truth. Covering things up will make his conversations more palatable, but true emotions have a way of being felt and known even if not fully observed or expressed.
When I revisit this talk with him again, I’m going to do a better job of pointing out that he should also try to identify and deal with how he feels. Because directly dealing with his feelings will actually help him manage them better. It will also allow for a more open and honest exchange. I’m going to encourage him to examine his emotions and intentions even if it’s still appropriate to display them more calmly. I need him to know that tone and deliver definitely matter. But if the relationship matters – the truth about how he’s feeling matters too. So I want him to have some tools to identify his feelings because sometimes he won’t even be sure what they are.
Feelings that speak loudly
So these are the 10 questions I’m going to encourage him to ask himself. The truth behind any of these answers is often hard to hide. I’m sure he won’t remember them all but I hope he’ll try one or two. They should help him come to a conversation knowing what he’s feeling and if he’s being genuine or not.
- Am I angry with this person?
- Has this person hurt my feelings?
- Do I like this person?
- Do I trust this person?
- Have I tried to see their point of view?
- Do they remind me of anyone that may have hurt me in the past?
- Does this situation remind me of anything that’s happened before?
- Am I open to changing my mind?
- Am I willing to hurt this relationship to make my point?
- What is the outcome I’m hoping for?