In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, we're all feeling pretty crappy right now. If you're anything like me, you're even trolling the Internet, looking for good news to share, starved for any reminder that humanity isn't one big pile of fetid dung that deserves to be wiped out by an asteroid. You're probably also thinking, What can I do to make this world a better place? This isn't what I want myself or my children to live in.
So you do what you can. Maybe you're advocating for better mental health care. Maybe you've sent condolences to Newtown. Maybe you've hugged your children tight. But you're still thinking, Short of uprooting my entire existence and moving to some foreign country to help the poor, what can I do? Can I really do anything? Yes, yes, you can. And it doesn't even have to cost you money.
Here are 8 important ways you can help make the world a better place.
Let go of anger. One of the most important things we can teach our children is that it's unrealistic to expect that everything will always go their way. In fact, lots of times, it goes the complete opposite way of what they want. But first, we have to teach ourselves that. The next time someone gets you angry -- talks about you behind your back, cuts you off in traffic, bumps into you and doesn't say "Excuse me" -- practice letting yourself feel your feelings. Admit them. I'm mad right now. I'm humiliated. Feel them for a few minutes. And then let them go. Don't retaliate. Don't say angry words. Realize, in the grand scheme of this short life, this is nothing.
Think about what you write. As a blogger, I get plenty of hate. Someone doesn't like what I say, so they call me names. I've been threatened. People have gone to the trouble of finding my private email and giving me crap. The anonymity of the Internet has made it so easy for us to rage on people we don't even know. The next time you find yourself about to say nasty words online, stop, and write down -- yes, with pen and paper -- what you want to say. Chances are you won't be as harsh in pen. Tapping out angry insults is too easy. Do you EVER feel good afterwards? Write it down on paper and THEN type it.
Do something good every day. Studies have shown that doing something good for someone makes YOU feel good. So try to do something small every day. Give a dollar to a homeless person. Open the door for someone. Smile and make eye contact with a stranger. You'll be shocked at how much better you feel and the good vibes will come back to you.
Be mindful. This is a Buddhist term. It means pay attention to what is going on around you. You may be surprised at what you see. I started practicing mindfulness on the subway, where I normally bury my head in a book. In doing that, I saw some amazing displays of goodness, including a group of young teens who helped an elderly man they didn't know carry his cart up the stairs and missed their train to do it. Being able to observe this really made my week.
Learn to respect others' opinions. Especially on Facebook, I see arguments break out every day between people with different opinions -- politics, gun control, mental health, you name it. Instead of telling someone off and immediately defriending them, ask their side of things. Listen. Respond with a dignified and polite answer. You'd be amazed at how you can find common ground.
Acceptance. There's a saying in Buddhist culture: If there's a remedy to a problem, then there's no reason to get upset. If there's no remedy, then there's no reason to get upset. In other words, if there's something you can do to solve a problem, then work on the solution without railing against the unfairness of it all and becoming hardened and full of hate. If there's no solution, then practice patient acceptance. This life is full of disappointment, but also of joy and love.
Watch your speech. For one week, try to not gossip or speak ill of other people. See how difficult it is. That's how much we get into the groove of negativity. You'll be pleasantly surprised how much your brain opens up in feelings of positivity when you stop talking smack about others. When you don't like what someone has done, practice compassion. Thinking, "That person must be in a lot of pain to act like that" will help your mindset more than, "What an ass that jerk is!" Whenever you are tempted to criticize someone, think instead about what you can do to improve yourself and remember a time you weren't so considerate. If the father of one of the little Sandy Hook victims can practice compassion, so can you.
Try to make an enemy into a friend. Once there was a woman I volunteered with who gave me cold, dirty looks every time she saw me. I was baffled, as I didn't know her and had never spoken a bad word to her. I could have just given her dirty looks back, but I decided to see what I could do to rectify the situation. One day, I offered to help her with something and she accepted. It turns out she didn't like me because of some misunderstanding on her part. Today, we're extremely good friends.
What can you do to make this world a better place?
Image via GrantLairdJr/Flickr