Each year, I wish for the same things — an end to war, poverty, hunger, violence and disease — and each year, I find the world relatively unchanged. Millions continue to die every year, casualties of a world that places greater value on war machines and profit margins than human life.
I’ve seen enough of the world in my 65 years to know that wishing is not enough. We need to be doing. It’s not possible to solve all of the world’s problems right away. But there are practical steps each of us can take to hopefully get things moving in the right direction. Here’s what I would suggest for a start:
Tone down the partisan rhetoric, the “us” vs. “them” mentality. Instead of wasting time and resources on political infighting, which gets us nowhere, it’s time Americans learned to work together to solve the problems before us. The best place to start is in your own communities, neighbor to neighbor. Politics will never be the answer. Grassroots activism is the only kind of change you can count on.
Turn off the TV and tune into what’s happening in your family, in your community and your world. Read your local newspaper. Attend a school board or city council meeting. Get involved with a nonprofit that works in your community. Whatever you do, reduce your intake of mindless television and entertainment news.
Show compassion to those in need, be kind to those around you, forgive those who have wronged you, and teach your children to do the same. Increasingly, people seem to be forgetting their p’s and q’s— basic manners that were drilled into older generations. I’m talking about simple things like holding a door open for someone, helping someone stranded on the side of the road, and saying “please” and “thank you” to those who do you a service.
Talk less, listen more. Take less, and give more. If people spent less time dwelling on and attending to their own needs and more time trying to help and understand those around them, many of the problems we currently face could be eliminated.
Stop acting entitled and start being empowered. We have moved into the Age of Entitlement, where more and more people feel entitled to certain benefits without having to work for them. There’s nothing wrong with helping those less fortunate, but as my parents taught me, there’s a lot to be said for an honest day’s work.
Remember that all people are endowed with inalienable rights. Torturing detainees and denying basic rights to non-citizens not only goes against everything that the U.S. is supposed to stand for, but it also goes against every principle common to all world religions—forgiveness, charity, nonjudgmentalism, nonviolence, etc.
Stop being a hater. Increasingly, we as a society have come to reflect the hostility at work in the world at large. This is so even in such a virtual microcrosm as Facebook, where “unfriending” those with whom you might disagree has become commonplace.
Learn tolerance in the true sense of the word. There’s no need to legislate tolerance through hate crime legislation and other politically correct mechanisms of compliance. True tolerance stems from a basic respect for one’s fellow man or woman. And it should be taught to children from the time they can understand right from wrong.
Treat women like people, not things. If pop culture and the media are any reflection of how women and girls are viewed today—primarily as sex objects—then one can only wonder what exactly the women’s rights movement has been doing in recent years.
Value your family. The traditional family, such that it is, is already in great disrepair, torn apart by divorce, infidelity, overscheduling, overwork, materialism, and an absence of spirituality. Despite the billions we spend on childcare, toys, clothes, private lessons, etc., a concern for our children no longer seems to be a prime factor in how we live our lives. And now we are beginning to see the blowback from collapsing familial relationships. Indeed, more and more, I hear about young people refusing to talk to their parents, grandparents being denied access to their grandchildren, and older individuals left to molder away in nursing homes. Yet without the family, the true building block of our nation, there can be no freedom.
Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and comfort the lonely and broken-hearted. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Take part in local food drives. Take a meal to a needy family. “Adopt” an elderly person at a nursing home. Support the creation of local homeless shelters in your community. Urge your churches, synagogues and mosques to act as rotating thermal shelters for the homeless during the cold winter months.
Give peace a chance. So far, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have cost American taxpayers nearly $4 trillion, and that doesn’t even begin to approach the human cost in lives lost—military and civilian— and families rent asunder. The military industrial complex has a lot to gain financially so long as America continues to wage its wars at home and abroad, but you can be sure that the American people will lose everything unless we find some way to give peace a chance.
Start your own teaspoon brigade. You don’t have to solve all the world’s problems single-handedly, nor do you have to solve them overnight. Little by little, you’ll get there, but you have to start somewhere. It is up to each of us to do our part to make this a better world for all.