Do you ever feel as if you aren’t accomplishing… enough? Not as in are you meeting deadlines and finishing reports on time, but rather are you doing enough in life? Are you exceeding your own expectations? Are you reaching your potential? Are you doing all of the things you told yourself as a child that you would definitely do, no matter what?
I will never forget the day Janet Fitch told me that “loneliness is the human condition.” Her words were like poetry, causing me to pause every few pages to immortalize a quote** here and there that I wanted to remember later on. She talked about suffering and loss and selfishness. She discussed how life begins and ends with every (wo)man out for themselves and to “not let the cattle stand in your way.” It was beautiful and romantic—in an artistic way—but I know that it is not true. Loneliness and suffering exist, yes, but I feel that one of mankind’s “secret” desires is not to thrive as the self, but to thrive as a whole. I believe that what people really want is to make a difference.
When someone thinks about change, they often think of the grandiose. They think of President Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. They think of women’s suffrage. The Nobel Peace Prize. The inception of Google. Our books taught us it takes great effort to make history, and that the here and now, the everyday, just isn’t enough. When faced with this knowledge it is easy to become disheartened. Why bother trying to make a difference when you are one small person in the midst of 7.2 billion? Exactly what can you do?
You can do everything.
The rise of technology has enabled us to see things we have never seen before. A video from across the world can become viral within hours and shared photos can reach thousands in a matter of minutes, all through the wonders of technology. You no longer need to read about history in a textbook 10 or 20 years from now, you can watch it happening now. And yes, some of it is grandiose and large and seems completely out of your reach, but something that I have learned about making a difference is that even the minimal can be monumental. Think back to your own experiences. How often has a single moment changed your day? A bad mood can often dissipate in the wake of human kindness: a firm handshake, a genuine smile, a warm hug. The sincerity of a thank you can remove weight from your shoulders. An offering of help can make the impossible probable. Something small can so easily turn into something meaningful, especially when you least expect it.
Because, when you think about, how many of these good Samaritans do you think are acting with a purpose? Not in general, per se, but do you think that right now there is someone making a plan and going, “Alright so today at 3pm I’m going to smile at a stranger on the street, and then at 5:30pm I’ll hold a door open for an elderly gentleman, and then at 10pm I can go to bed knowing that I made their life better and man, I am SO rocking this kindness thing!” That’s the sneaky thing about good deeds and human kindness: you can tell when it’s genuine. The man in the SUV in front of me didn’t do the “Thank You Wave” after I let him into my lane knowing that I was reaching the end of my patience with LA drivers and was about to snap unless someone showed me a little common courtesy (and common sense, really, if we’re talking about drivers in the city of angels…). True kindness is not often planned; it is rather an instinctual reaction to a certain situation. You don’t often make a conscious decision to smile (selfies not accounted for), it just happens. Dopamine increases, a good feeling rises in your breast, and the next thing you know your cheeks are starting to hurt from the strain. It’s a good thing, a happy thing, and when it is honest it leaves a larger impact.
Not to say that someone couldn’t practice the art of kindness. There is nothing wrong with starting each day with the intention of being kind. For those of us who are human—hopefully all of you, but if you aren’t please contact me, we have more to discuss—it is easy to allow manners to slip. Caught up in our own lives, we often forget small acts of courtesy or allow our own feelings to be projected onto others. With a show of hands, how many of us have snapped at a loved one during a time of stress? We know it’s wrong, and we typically regret it the moment it happens, but it still happens. That is humanity. That is human nature and is nothing to be ashamed of, as long as we do our best to ensure it stays a rarity rather than a pattern.
Knowing that your mannerisms can leave an impact on those around you is a great inspiration for good deeds, even if it takes a little practice. It is also an important something to keep in perspective. Remember the butterfly effect and acknowledge that you are more important that you realize. So even when you feel less than for not curing world hunger or patenting a life-saving device to prevent infant deaths in hot cars before the age of 11—personal experience time: I felt like a loser when I realized the creative genius behind Silent Hill, Masahiro Ito, was in his early 20s, and there I was, 25-years old (at the time) with no creative genius to show—remember the power you have. One action from you can change the world. You can bring a flush to someone’s cheeks, make the sun seem a little brighter, or put a twinkle in a stranger’s eye. No matter how seemingly insignificant your actions seem, you are making a difference. You are changing the world.
So keep up the good work because I am proud of you. You are making the world a better place, and that will always be enough.
** “If evil means to be self-motivated, to live on one’s own terms, then every artist, every thinker, every original mind, is evil. Because we dare to look through our own eyes rather than mouth clichés lent us from the so-called Fathers. To dare to see is to steal fire from the Gods.” –Janet Fitch, White Oleander