Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Changing the World Is Like AA

Changing the world is a lot like AA. First you have to acknowledge that you have a problem. Then you admit that you can't control the problem. And then you turn it over to a power greater than yourself.

So, do you have a problem with the world? Or are you comfortable with things as they are? Really. You have to decide just how uncomfortable the problem is for you. If you are willing to live with the status quo there is no reason for you to even consider changing it. Do you live in denial, telling yourself that it isn't a problem for you that other people are dying of starvation, preventable disease, or war.

Be honest with yourself. How much does it bother you? Does it bother you just enough that you distract yourself with other thoughts or rationalize that it isn't really YOUR problem?

The second part is easy to believe. No one can actually CONTROL the problem. It is already way out of control. But does that mean you should do nothing about it? Ask any AA member why they are in AA if they believe they can't control their addiction. Letting go of control of the problem doesn't mean you can't change YOURSELF - your beliefs, your behaviors, your choices.

And then turning it over to a power greater than yourself may sound too spiritual to you to take at face value. So let's look at that more closely. Obviously you, as an individual, cannot on your own change the world. So what might be a power greater than yourself? There is the power of joining with others, the power of hope, and the power of the universe.

There is synchronicity or serendipity that happens without you even knowing it. When one thing changes somewhere in the world the same thing almost magically occurs in other parts of the world. For instance, often someone will discover a new idea or invent a new machine or develop a new drug. And without anyone else knowing about it, the same thing is discovered or invented in someplace far away. It seems that the universe just waits for something new and then replicates it without people knowing it. This often occurs in science. I'm sure you've heard or read about such things.

 "Turning it over", therefore, doesn't mean you are now free to go back to acting the same way you've been acting, expecting magic to happen. It means letting go of your isolation, your unwillingness to ask for help, your resistance to change happening in your life.

So where does that leave you? Are you willing to do anything about the state of our world? If you are, it means starting inside yourself, your beliefs. Do you believe there can be a better world?

Hope must be part of your perspective. "Hope shows us a destination, but a vast territory, the territory of despair, lies between it and us" (1) This spark of hope, however, can be fanned into flame at the slightest turn of good news. So with this perspective, look for the good news, the ways things are changing for the better in yourself and in the world, no matter how small. And encourage hope your perspective and in others. It is vital to change.

We must believe in our hearts that the beautiful world we long for is possible. And we must make our choices every day from our heart, not because someone says we should or shouldn't act with compassion. We must actually make room in our hearts for compassion and nurture it. When it is growing there your choices will be more compassionate. You won't have to make yourself do compassionate acts, you will BE compassionate and your behavior will show that.

We are going to have to change a lot of our beliefs - beliefs about scarcity, about how we are related to all of creation, about what we really need, about happiness and what it really means, about money, about power, about so many things. We have to consider that nothing is as it seems and to look beyond what we first perceive.

It all comes down to us as individuals, to our inner being. I hope more and more people will take the journey to find themselves and to grow into truly compassionate people. Then things in our world will change and change rapidly. Won't you consider it?

(1) The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible , Charles Eisenstein.

Today's daily dozen to-do list choices:

  • Refrain from judging others or harassing them because they may be different or because of their actions. Search yourself or things you have in common rather than ways you are different.
  • Organize a flower-planting party in a nearby park, school, or faith organization. Consider the response others have to the beauty of nature and what a difference that can make for their day when they enjoy your handiwork.
  • Write a kind note to relatives and friends, letting them know why they are special.
  • Open the door for another person when out in public, no matter who that person is. Smile a greeting.
  • Consider needs others may have that you don't see being met and do something to change that. E.g. Approach bookstores owners and publishers about ordering and carrying more books in large print or on tape.
  • Talk to others about kindness, why it makes a difference and the fact that it really is easy to do.
  • Recycle all newspapers, plastics, aluminum, and paper, even if you have to go out of your way to do it. Be kind to the earth.
  • Create a "smile file" with cartoons and pictures that make othrs smile; pick out a cartoon to cheer up a friend in need.
  • Take a day and pay a compliment once every hour; practice telling people what you like about them.
  • Call an animal shelter and find out what donations they need. Collect treats, food, first aid supplies, toys, cat litter, towels, and soft blankets for the homeless animals. Most shelters will encourage you to come "visit" the animals to give them special individual attention. Go regularly and get your "animal love fix!"
  • Switch to pet-safe antifreeze. Antifreeze contains propylene glycol that carries a tempting but fatal taste to animals. Just one teaspoon can kill a cat and two ounces can kill a dog.
  • Reduce air pollution by planting trees and plants in your yard.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why do anything?

I can't make every thing better, so why bother making anything better? I can't solve the problem of world hunger, so why should I bother to recycle? Isn't it just too much to ask to ask me to try to change ANYTHING for the better if I can't change the world?

Many folks just give up making positive changes because the need is so overwhelming. Have you been to that point? Are you there now?

You know the old adage "The longest journey begins with the first step." But what if I can't even see the end of the journey? What if it is beyond my vision? Why even start if I know I can't finish?

I don't join marathons because I know I can't finish one. I can't walk that far. I can barely finish walking a tenth of a mile these days. What would be the point?

I don't know. What I do believe, though, is that if I keep walking the tenth of a mile until it becomes a quarter of a mile, I will feel good about doing it. And it will make me stronger. And I might even inspire someone else to do something that seems really hard to accomplish.

That's why I am walking more every week. It feels good. It makes me stronger. And it might inspire someone else to start walking or running or some other tough thing to do.

And I guess that is why I want to do things to change the world, even if they are small things. I can change the world for someone in some small way. That feels good. It makes me stronger. And I hope to inspire someone else to do it too.

Drops of water wearing away  the stone.

Sometimes the world's problems seem impossible to solve, improbable even. Just remember: nothing is as it seems. Grand Canyon was once a tiny crack. Have you SEEN Grand Canyon?

Yeah. You get it.

So why do you do what you do?

Today's daily dozen to-do list:

  • Gather a few neighbors to dopt an entrance to your neighborhood and periodically have a get-together to keep it weeded and cleaned up. Serve refreshments and make it a Saturday morning party!
  • Send cards or letters of appreciation to people you read about in the news who have done good deeds. Send kind thoughts to people you hear about in your community who have suffered a setback. Send "Thinking of You" cards to acquaintances who may be struggling with some issue in their life.
  • Write a note to the supervisor of someone who has been particularly helpful, letting him or her know how the employee helped you.
  • Collect stories from family members about kind acts, both given and received, and create a family scrapbook. If you have photos, include them with the stories. As years go by and as your children grow, all of yu can review the many ways that kindness has touched your family's life.
  • Spruce up the yard of a neighbor or friend who is ill or who has just had surgery or a death in the family.
  • Smile and say "hello" to someone you don't know.
  • Save box tops for education and donate to a local school, even if you don't have children.
  • Create or donate floral arrangements for a senior center, nursing home, police station, hospital or the home-bound.
  • Set aside a portion of your garden for a neighbor child to tend, and work in the garden together, offering ideas and expertise as you go. Or simply help a child start a vegetable plant, teach him or her how to tend it, and allow them to take the produce home.
  • Sponsor a "Kindness Zone" or "practice Random Acts of Kindness" sign at entrances to the downtown area of your community.
  • Put notes of encouragement in library books for someone else to find. [Don't write in the books, of course.]
  • Prepare treats for neighbors, emergency workers, mail carriers, coworkers, military personnel, or other community members, along with a note of appreciation. Drop off homemade baked goods to the nearest fire station, police station, emergency room, post office, etc.,  to let them know how much they are appreciated. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Where is your influence?

It is easy to think of one's self as isolated and powerless to influence change. We watch television and the internet to see high profile folks endorsing this or influencing that We may even wish we had that power to influence change, to make a difference.

A rock star holds a benefit concert and raise enough money to change the lives of a multitude of homeless or destitute folks. A major corporation donates enough money to provide limbs for disabled veterans. A national charity holds a marathon to raise money for medical research. All are good works and benefit many who need help.

But what about you or me? Yes, we can participate in their events with donations of money or time or effort. And that is important. But what more can one do?

We are each connected to others, either narrowly or widely. And we can choose to widen that circle of influence if we want. Where are you connected?

Draw a circle in the center of a page. That is you. Now, draw a line out from you to anyone or anything you have had contact with in the last day, week, month, year. Include individuals, groups, businesses, professionals. I'm guessing you could nearly fill the page! Now for each one determine how you made contact - face to face, phone, mail, internet, etc.

You are probably thinking that mere contact doesn't give you any influence. Let's look at that.

A pebble contacts the water. It influences the water to ripple. The bigger the stone the bigger the wave produced. But even a grain of sand dropped into the water moves the water out to sink to the bottom. So every contact changes something, big or small. There is your infuence.

You know how you can "make waves" in someone's life. It can be good or not. More choices. But you DO have influence. The more contact you make the greater you influence. You visit your dentist and talk about a project you are involved in. She may express interest. You can then educate or enlist help with the project. The same thing happens anytime you interact with others. So ;you can choose to influence them toward choices that make a positive impact in the world - large or small. Maybe your dentist would donate toothbrushes for care package to deployed military personnel. Or you favorite restaurant might donate a gift certificate for a charity auction.

Yes, you have influence. You can choose to use it to make the world better. Check out some of the thins on the "to-do list" below and consider what you might do with your influence. Share in the comments what you've done and any other suggestions you have for others.

Today's daily dozen to-do list choices.
  • Have a group fill baskets of kindness with things like stationery, stamps, playing cards, a puzzle or game, a magazine, fresh flower, a book,  a mug, cookies or other treat and a greeting card signed by the members for a shut-in or elderly person on their own. 
  • Create handout fliers promoting a fund-raising event or charity and distribute to businesses and/or neighbors in your circle of influence.
  • Organize a group of friends and family to go out and perform acts of kindness, such as cleaning up a schoolyard or park; visiting a nursing home to provide conversation and oompany to residents; teaching at an adult literacy center, etc.
  • Hold a read-a-thon for a worthy ause. Fin sponsors from the staf who will pay moey per book read and donate the proceeds to a charity such as child abuse causes.
  • Talk to your family/friends about recycling, why it is important, how they can recycle more items, etc
  • Ask the people you know to help you collect hygiene products to donate to homeless shelters and food pantries. 
  • Work with a charity to help sell ads to business and professionals you have contact with to incude in that charity/s event program .
  • Participate in a school's career day.
  • Organize a bake sale for a cause you believe in.
  • Post links on social media for organizations that make a positive difference.
  • Write and hand out thank you notes to service people that are often ignored - janitors, busboys, receptionists, secretaries, etc
  • Form a volunteer committee to visit nursing homes or senior centers with recordings of songs that bring back memories, such as Mitch Miller, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Soooooo many choices!

As I began considering choices for acts of kindness and making a positive difference, I discovered that the list just kept growing and growing. Now it is so long that it won't fit all in one post! So I'm not quite sure how to deal with that.

Should I post a list every day? Would readers then get bored with that and stop reading my blog? Or should I put a few at the bottom of the page of each post, whether or not it fits the content of the post? Would that confuse readers? What else might I do?

And I hope people will add their ideas of things to do in their comments. Should I add these to my list or just hope folks will read comments themselves? Not everyone will read every post, so they could miss some ideas. But if they show up again in the big lists would folks get bored with the repetition?

You see, I'm kind of new at blogging and I don't really know what works. I don't even know what works to get more people to read my blog in the first place. If no one really reads the blog and the lists will anything change?

I mean, the idea is to encourage more people to make changes, to do things, that will positively impact the world in small or big ways. So for me to achieve that, more people need to see and consider what I have to say. Right?

Well, since I believe that every act creates reaction I will keep on blogging and making suggestions of ways others can make a positive difference. I hope you will help by giving me feedback, by sharing my blog posts, by sending people to my blog, by giving me advice if you have done anything like this, by encourage me to keep on keeping on.

Thanks. So put your thoughts in the comments. Here are today's suggestions:

  • Clean up trash and refrain from littering.
  • Hold a fundraiser and donate the proceeds to an animal shelter or wildlife fund.
  • Make meals to reheat for a recovering surgery patient.
  • With some friends, organize a sing-along at a senior center or retirement home.
  • Invite your family or friends to bake cookies together and take them to a neighbor who need a lift.
  • Invite people of different cultures and/or backgrounds to your community events/worship services/family events/schools/neighborhood gatherings.
  • Write a kind note to relatives and friends, letting the know why they are special.
  • Help a neighbor weed or plant a garden.
  • Stop your car for someone waiting to cross the street.
  • Leave enough money in the vending machine for the next person to get a free treat.
  • Rake leaves or shovel snow for a neighbor or a shut-in  .
  • Roll an elderly neighbor's garbage cans back up the driveway at the end of trash pick-up day.[We have a neighbor who takes our trash and recycle cans to and from the curb on appropriate days. This is SO appreciated.]

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Change-the-World To-Do List

Whew! It is HUGE, as Trump would say. Only I really mean it truly is long. But the good news is that you don't have to do it all. In fact, you don't have to do any at all unless you choose to. You are already doing a lot. But are you consciously doing things that make a positive difference?

My hope is that I will make more and more conscious choices so that I can know that I'm making a positive difference.  Most of the time we act unconsciously, trusting that things will work out. We do what is familiar because it feels safe. We follow what others do because we think they know what is best. We don't spend much thought on all the consequences of each act. We act out of habit most of the time.

But if we want change to occur anywhere we have to make change happen.

I read in Charles Eisenstein's The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible "You cannot change one thing without changing everything." At first I thought I had to change everything to accomplish one change. That was overwhelming.  But then I realized that what he was saying is that when we make one change everything else has to adapt or adjust and that creates a ripple of changes.

Think of it. You change shoes and your feet change. The change may be big or small, but there is a change. In fact, there are changes you make in order to change your shoes! Your body changes, you change the location of the shoes, and so forth. Remember, a change can be big or small or even infinitesimal.

The size of the change is not all that important in the scheme of things. But the outcome of even a small change can be major. An airliner that is one degree off course, if not corrected, can result in the plane eventually running out of fuel and crashing or smashing into a mountain. So don't minimize the size of your change.

So what one change, big or small, could you make today that would have a positive impact? And would that also have a positive impact, in some way, on the world? How? Share your thoughts here.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Do Something About the Climate of Fear

These are scary times, aren't they? Or are they? What makes it scarier than other times? Violence? There has always been violence. Uncertainly? There has always been uncertainty. But we now live in a climate of fear. That is what makes terrorism so effective.

And it isn't just the media. Politicians use fear to get voters to support them. Merchants use fear to sell their wares. Power brokers use fear to wield their power. 

So what is this thing called fear that exerts so much power and permeates our lives? Where does it get its power? How does it wrap us up so completely?

The increase in our exposure to violence keeps us anxious, I suppose. The ongoing threat that something bad is going to happen fuels it. Direct and subtle threats bombard us.

"Protect yourself, your home and family" is urged by voices all around us: Get a burglar alarm, carry a gun, keep a guard dog, don't speak to strangers, buy more insurance, stock up on foods, avoid crowds, use antiseptic hand cleaner more often, be wary of bankers, build up the military, build walls between countries, segregate races, prohibit what you don't understand, don't fail - ever, you need more than you have in case you lose some, you must be liked/admired by everyone, and on and on. The messages keep you anxious. We are encouraged to believe we need everything we want and if we don't get it something bad will happen. 

An acronym for fear is False Evidence Appearing Real.  Most fear fits that. It makes sense to be aware of your surroundings, but if there is no immanent  physical threat, like a hungry tiger in your living room, it doesn't make sense to go through life fearing tigers.

It makes sense to take reasonable measures to prevent harm to self or others. But the knee-jerk reaction to the miasma of warnings does nothing to make life safer. Actually, it increases the risks. Bigger military creates more fear in other countries, which then creates more likelihood of bigger military clashes. Cooperation is more likely to create peace - and safety - than violent confrontation.

Gun owners are more likely to use a gun than to look for other solutions when confronted with conflict. We don't even train our children in conflict resolution so that they have the personal power to solve their problems without threatening others.

Fear is more likely to incite anger than does reason. And anger tends to lead to violence of some kind, which doesn't make you safer.

Fear can be very helpful when the threat is real. It makes you move to safety, to diminish the threat. You then have time and space to resolve the conflict. But staying fearful leads to making decisions that work against you in the long run.

So, I'm not saying don't be afraid. I'm saying use some logic regarding threats. Avoid knee-jerk reactions and don't increase the climate of fear by gossiping or making threats yourself. Don't pass it on if you don't know how real it might be. Be careful of the "what if's" that heighten anxiety. Be more aware of solutions than potential problems. Live more in the moment than in the imagined future.

Terrorism is intended to disrupt the peace. Obviously, vigilance is good. But hyper-vigilance when there is no credible imminent threat does not create a peaceful life. It doesn't even make you safer. It makes you more vulnerable because you become "trigger happy". Exactly what terrorism intends.

People have rushed to buy guns. Now there are guns in more homes and businesses, and the rate of gunshot victims has skyrocketed. We aren't safer.

So what about fear? Tell me how you experience a climate of fear today? What can we do to be safe AND calm? What threatening messages do you hear frequently? What is your take on fear?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Do Something About Violence

This is a very broad subject and overlaps other issues, so I will try to look at the violence perpetrated by individuals and supposedly non-militant groups - like gangs, etc.

You may think the times are more violent than ever. We see all kinds of violence every day, over and over.

Bombings, terrorist attacks, shootings, muggings, rapes, assaults, domestic violence, child abuse. We see all of it daily, in our own homes. Now THAT is unusual. I mean, for most of us we personally don't see violence directly. But today we see it in our living rooms on TV, in newspapers, movies, etc. It looks to be the first response to anger too often.

For hundreds of years only certain people were directly involved in violence, either as perpetrator or victim. Soldiers, for instance, were involved in violence. But even for them, when they were not making war, when they were living as civilians, violence was not a common part of their lives,

People then didn't have televisions that daily exposed them to violence. They didn't even have movies that put them in the midst of violent scenes.

Yes, you could read stories that included violence. But not everyone could read. And not every reader chose to read about violence. There was much less exposure to violence than today. And when it did occur, it was shocking.

Today, however, it no longer it shocks. And THAT'S a problem. You see, violence becomes more acceptable and more folks choose it. Violent language no longer shocks as it once did. And words are a powerful influence on behavior.

When I was in high school, sixty years ago, a gun in school was unheard of. Violent language was not tolerated. When boys would occasionally flare up and start a fight, it was not at school. They knew the consequences would be swift. And they never used weapons.

Kids now carry knives, often have guns, and emulate what they see on t.v. Even fashion takes on the look of gangsters. Young people are encouraged to become violent. Is it any wonder that it continues to appear in the news and films? And as violence is so much in the forefront of our experience it is more and more acceptable.

So what can we do about violence? We must address the culture of violence that exists today. Individually and in organizations we must object to violence in all forms. That won't be popular. Are you up to that? Refuse to purchase anything that reflects violence. Refuse to use or to tolerate violent language. And teach anger management that offers better choices of behavior to deal with disputes.

Sounds simplistic, I know. And it won't turn things around in a tight circle. But, remember the drops of water on the stone? And when we teach our children, our family, our friends, and groups we are active in, the importance of these changes the circle widens. And the stone will wear away. 

What changes can you make? What might you be willing to do to reduce violence? What other ideas do you have about it?

The Dali Lama said:

Just as heat dispels cold, loving-kindness counters anger. We need to learn how to counter our various emotions. Distraction is just a temporary measure. The longer lasting remedy is to be able to see positive qualities in something or someone you otherwise see as negative. Since there is rarely any justification for destructive emotions, we need to become aware of what gives rise to them and what the antidotes are.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Do Something About Hunger

There are many kinds of hunger, of course. I'm looking now at physical hunger. There are way too many malnourished children in the world, even in America. Some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That's about one in nine people on earth.(1) There is just no excuse for this. There is enough food in the world to feel everyone. The problem is that it doesn't get to where it is needed.

The reasons are various. Sometimes food does not get to places where war and violence keep it away. There are forces that use siege as part of their aggression, even though siege is condemned by the world and considered an international crime. The idea of siege is to cut off all supplies, including food and water, to the enemy camp. The problem is that that often includes towns and villages that house civilians, non-combatants, children, the elderly. People, especially children, starve to death. This is inhumane.

What can we do about this? There doesn't appear to be a lot we can do as individuals. However, as individuals we can make our voices heard. Nations and organizations with influence like the UN, can exert pressure to have humanitarian aid allowed in. We need to speak up loud and clear to let them know we want the issue confronted. In the past, air drops of food have been used, as in Berlin, Germany, when it was cut off from the west. Why couldn't we use drones for that? And, of course, bringing an end to war eliminates siege. We'll look at that solution another time.

Hunger also occurs in areas of drought in countries with no infrastructure to distribute food. Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, is the region with the highest prevalence (percentage of population) of hunger. One person in four there is undernourished.(1) Here, again, the ones most harmed are the children and elderly. Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five - 3.1 million children each year.(1)

It is the responsibility of the countries with food enough to get nourishment to these places. Organizations like Save the Children, World Food Programme , Project Hope, and others work to get food and clean water to those who need it.

Here is a way any of us can help - by supporting responsible organizations monetarily and/or by volunteering. Here is a list of charitable organizations (NGOs) that primarily target world hunger: Action Against Hunger; Bread for the World; Convoy of HopeFreedom from HungerFood for the HungryFood for the PoorHeifer Project InternationalThe Hunger ProjectStop Hunger NowWhyHungerWorld Food Programme.(2) And remember, even a small gift can made a difference. Or organize a fund-raiser for your cause.

For help in evaluating world hunger organizations, see: Charity Navigator – America’s largest independent charity evaluator. CharityWatch – a charity rating and evaluation service dedicated to helping donors make informed giving decisions. Philanthropedia – finding the top non-profit organizations. Find an organization you believe in and support them however you can. (2)

What about hunger in America? What can you do about hunger in your own state or city or town? As one of the richest countries in the world, where obesity is a primary health concern, you wouldn't think hunger would be a problem at all. However, food insecurity exists in every county in the U.S., ranging from a low of 4 percent in Slope County, ND to a high of 33 percent in Humphreys County, MS. (3)

This is appalling. How does this exist? With the rise in poverty, unemployment, under-employment, more and more families just cannot make their income stretch to cover the basics. Addressing these issues are a long term solution and a critical one. We must demand that our government strengthen the economy, increase minimum wage, and educate workers for the new jobs in sustainable energy and in the communication and information industry. We each have a vote and are responsible for electing officials who will work for the good of the people. One thing you can do about hunger - vote!

More immediate solutions lie in supplying food to those who need it wherever they are, rural or metropolitan areas. Food banks and community gardens are making a sizable difference in the lives of many. Here is where you can become personally involved. Check to see where the food bank and food pantries are in your area. You can go on-line to to discover the locations in your area. Check out ways you can help them get food to those who need it.

You can volunteer to staff the food pantry for a day, or more than a day, stocking shelves, helping clients choose food, packing bags with food choices. You can work on fund-raisers to help buy food for their shelves. You can donate money or non-perishables directly. Most will supply a list of what items they most need.

If you raise vegetables at home, share the harvests with a food pantry. Or participate in a community garden to raise fresh produce for families who have little access to healthy fresh foods.

You can have a food drive. Invite friends and family to donate items or to help you go door to door collecting donations. My favorite way to do it is to have an event and ask people to bring a donation. We asked for food pantry donations for our wedding instead of gifts and we collected a car trunk full of food and $1400! It was enough to stock the neighborhood pantry for a month! In the past we have had birthday parties where we've asked guests to bring certain kinds of donations rather than gifts. Sometimes we collect canned goods, sometimes paper products.

What are some more ways you or I, either individually or with a group, could raise money for fighting hunger?

Remember, the important thing is that you do SOMETHING. Large or small, every effort will make life better for someone.

Now, tell me what you have done or could do to reduce the problem of hunger. Make your suggestions and ideas in the comments below. We are making a list! We are changing the world!