I took a sabbatical from my blog because I no longer wanted to post about the craft of writing. I knew I wanted to change directions, but wasn’t sure what the right direction might be. Two recent incidents showed me the way. I am close to publication of my next novel, Virgilante. And Facebook is exploding with thoughts about the Paris attacks and what people should and should not be doing about it. These may seem unrelated, but they inspired me to write about some simple things anyone can do to make the world a happier and more peaceful place, at least the part of the world where they live.
Virgil is, as one might guess from the title of the book, a vigilante. He uses his family’s special powers to improve the small town where he lives. The rest of us might not be able to alter reality to bring instant karma to a bad guy, but we can still take steps to improve our world. Here are three easy ways you can make a difference. Some cost a bit, others are free. All are worthwhile. (Note that the links I’ve included below are for my community area – Lockhart, greater Austin, and surrounding communities. There are equivalent resources in your own community.)
Give of your time in your community. Find a local organization that fires your enthusiasm and offer to help. There are always multiple opportunities, even in small communities. Walk dogs or play with cats at the animal shelter. Read books to seniors at an assisted living center or to kids at the local library. Deliver food for Meals on Wheels. Spend time helping your local community theatre – building sets, putting up flyers, or even starring in a play. Bake cookies for the local fire station, whose brave men spend days at a time. Spend a Saturday picking up trash in a local park, or even just pick up trash between your car and the office or store. Contact your local Chamber of Commerce and ask what festivals and events could use an extra set of hands.
Locally donate items you no longer want or need. Instead of a garage sale, or donating to a center that resells, give your clothes to a homeless shelter or women’s shelter. Drop off old towels and bedding at the animal shelter. Donate small household items that still work to a center that helps the homeless get a fresh start. Libraries and assisted living centers appreciate books and DVDs that are in good condition. Most libraries don’t want old magazines, but assisted living centers love them – they don’t just offer them to residents to read, they use them for craft projects, too. Schools and day care centers love old greeting cards, leftover ribbon, and partial rolls of wrapping paper, as the kids use them in craft projects. Even an old car makes a great donation – most larger local non-profits accept old cars. If they cannot use the car themselves, they can sell it and use the resulting funds. And if you can, donate money to local non-profit organizations, the animal shelter, even the library.
3. Pay it forward
The idea behind pay it forward is simple. Everyone loves a happy little surprise. Instead of paying back the person who does a kindness to you, you do a kindness for someone who doesn’t expect it. It can brighten even the darkest day. Paying it forward can complex or take very little time. Pay for the order of the person behind you in the drive through. Tape a couple of movie passes to a gas pump or leave them in a shopping cart. Anonymously send a money order to a struggling single mother or elderly person. Send a subscription for a nature magazine with lots of pictures to a shut-in. You can even pay it forward without spending a penny – next time you use a public restroom, use an extra towel to wipe off the counter, even water you didn’t spill, so the next person has a cleaner bathroom than you found when you entered.
In the long run, it’s one person helping another, or contributing to their community, that makes all the difference in the community’s spirit and quality of life. While these small steps cannot fix the greater ills of the world, they can make everyday life in a community much more pleasant and enjoyable. And they just might spread, even if everyone spent just an hour a week.