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I Can Make A Difference Essay And Article

How to make the world a better place

“The key question to keep asking is: are you spending your time on the right things? Because time is all you have.” –Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

The perpetual struggle of an individual to achieve greatness in his lifetimes is palpable especially in today’s society. With such vast a platform as social media, any little triumph or mundanity in progress is posted online. However, in getting to such point, relevance must first be built upon the individual and what he considers a triumph.

In a world stricken by hardship, waking up to bad news is not unfamiliar. Climate change, gender inequality, criminal offenses, and worldwide poverty and hunger–these are all spread across various television networks, almost until they have become the new norm. It definitely should not be. Can the world get better? These are the same goals published by the United Nations after convening with our world’s leaders at the onset of the new millennium. They have re-instituted the same in the recent convention. Can the world get better in our lifetime?

The individual essentially is self-serving, however, because exactly of its self-interested nature, he becomes unpredictable when he goes beyond. We are blessed with the ability to immediately act upon instinct or impulse. The only thing stopping us from saving the world is ourselves. We have to first decide whether or not a better world is something we would want for ourselves. There is a purpose to us as people. Some people call it a profession, some people call it a vocation. It’s why and how we choose to spend our time.

In an attempt to marry both the individual and the world, a connection must be established between the goals of the former and the latter. We must strive not only to achieve our own personal goals but also that of the world as a whole. The world can remain without us, but we cannot live without it. Here are a few steps to start:

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Always respond with kindness. Kindness speaks volumes. No matter where you are in the world, good will always permeate through numerous social, political, cultural, and even religious barriers. There is a charm to kindness in that it does not need anything else to speak for it. Simple acts of holding the door for a stranger or flashing a smile to people you commute with to work. It goes without saying that these acts go a long way.

Walk with diversity. Say no to division and yes to diversity. A lot of hatred comes from what we do not understand. Racism and prejudice against other nations arises from the fact that we do not understand them and we refuse to learn their roots. The world is wide and beautiful, it is normal that it be filled with so many cultural peculiarities. Go spend time with people from different countries. Travel the world. Eat it up. Lessen the hate and break the stigma. Read a non-American novel once in a while. Build yourself a mosaic of knowledge and experience.

Maximize opportunities. Focus on the kind of person you want to be and how you are going to get there.Talk to people in the sector you’re keen in to learn more about what skills are required. Read more, learn more. Go to university. Get a job. Work your way up but always keep the world in your heart. Speak more to the people on the ground to get a better sense of reality. Be increasingly aware and remain conscious of what needs to be done and how you can help. Our goals are big–fight world hunger, attain zero poverty, be more tolerant–and it can be overwhelming. Know that you are not alone. This fight is a fight where all of us are warriors.

Make a difference. Build bridges by tapping on the expertise of others across culture barriers. Make the best of what you have. Explore the whole spectrum of what drives policy in society today. Fight social injustice and make a transformative change for the oppressed. Understand your own background and what you can offer. It is never easy to strive to make a difference but remember that it all starts with a single step.

Create a Better Future. Keep your core values strong but carry on with an open mind and an open heart. Always nurture new roots. Youths must work together to decide on the steps on working on a better economic reality for tomorrow. Be ambitious in wanting to make the world a better place. Never lose sight of the goals you set for yourself and for the world.

It is going to take time but time is all we have. Learn to live independently yet purposefully. Much of the problems that plague us originates from our inability to understand, ultimately, our own selves. The moment we work on overcoming the same is the moment we know we are moving on to greater things. Let us choose the world that we want.

I know you care about something: a person, a place or an idea. I also know that, whatever it is you care about, you want to help that thing. You prefer to be of use and to act in service of that friend or concept, rather than against it. These two points together mean that some actions serve you more than others: the more aligned your cares and actions, the bigger the difference you make. You don’t need to candy-stripe or be nice to your strange uncle (or his weird kids): to make a difference you simply need to question the value of what you’re doing and do something about your answers.

The ego vs. things that matter

We rarely need big things. As soon as someone starts talking about changing the world or radically reinventing something odds are good he’s talking from his ego, not his heart. Unless he’s working on bringing safety to the scared, health to the sick, or opportunity to the poor, the reinvention serves a want (or an ego), not a need. Technology has diminishing returns when it comes to difference making. Look back at the thing you care about: your friend, your family, your favorite pair of underwear, the idea of free thought, whatever it is. Now think of the last thing you made or the last hour or day you lived. Now, the one before that. What impact did they have on the things you hold most high? Was the reason you did or did not make a difference soley dependent on a technology?

Progress may be infinite, sure, but in our time (and perhaps class, and country) progress isn’t as dependent on technology as it used to be: now it’s the use of technology that matters more than technology itself. The glaring need for progress is in what we send over the pipes, and not the pipes themselves. Since the telegraph we’ve been sending most bits to most places: where we’re behind is in the quality of what we send each other. For example, here’s some difference making problems whose solutions are not dependent on recent technological advances:

  • You don’t know your neighbors.
  • Its been ages since you helped someone just because they needed it.
  • Your spouse thinks you smell funny.
  • You haven’t spoken to good friends in months.
  • You’re unhappy, burnt-out or bored with your life.
  • You’ve fallen and can’t get up (oh wait)

Everyone I know who has designed something millions of people use, a radically successful product or website, has trouble connecting that accomplishment with difference making. It’s often their first answer, but one they quickly abandon. Instead, they talk about other things: helping friends, sharing advice with someone who needed it, standing up for something they thought was right despite the consequences, helping a friend, or better yet a stranger, laugh at a bad day.

It’s these seemingly small things that have little to do with a particular technology, or science, or business that stand out as most memorable. We can all remember times when someone did something for us that mattered and it’s always these human things. Simple behaviors. Actions not heavily bound by technology. Surprising acts of people not being heartless. So why do we forget that it is these things, not tools and toys, that hold the essence of making a difference?

Forgotten things

On my last day at Microsoft I was invited (thanks to Surya Vanka) to do a last lecture. It was a wonderful event and I talked about important things to a friendly crowd. Afterwards, a peer I respected but didn’t know walked my way. He thanked me for the work I’d done. I asked why he’d never said anything before. He told me (get this) he thought I already knew. He figured I probably heard that sort of thing all the time. In essence, he didn’t want to annoy me with praise. Annoy me with praise! Is there a more absurd phrase in the English language?

It made me think how many times I’d seen or read things that mattered to me and how rare it was I’d offered any praise in return.

Books that I loved (or read dozens of times), lectures I enjoyed, good advice I’d recieved, that I’d never thanked the person for. Or never made an effort to champion their work to others. Dozens of people who who said honest things that changed me for the better, or who stuck up for me when others didn’t, who never learned the value their words had. I recognized an infinity of actions that made a difference to me that I had not acknowledged in any way and I was poisoned by it. I was less than the man who’d thanked me on my way out of the company. He did something about what mattered to him. He walked straight up, looked me in the eye, and offered his thanks, something, I realized, I didn’t know how to do.

These little forgotten things, a short e-mail, A comment on a website, A handshake and a thank you, were not things I’d ever learned. And I realized, in my twisted little attic of a mind, in a hidden dark corner covered in dust, was the belief that offering praise in those contexts was a lessening of my self-opinion. That to compliment was to admit a kind of failure in myself: an association between those kinds of praise and sycophancy. I know now what a fool I’ve been, for it takes a better man to acknowledge goodness in others than it does to merely be good oneself. Anyone can criticize or accept praise, but initiating a positive exchange is a hallmark of a difference maker.

The gift of time

I buy more things than I make. I used to think it was a sign of some kind of capitalistic progress to be able to buy food and gifts instead of making them myself, but I’m not sure anymore. When it comes to difference making there is a different trend line. Money can come and go, but my time on this planet is finite. How I spend my time, or who I spend it with means more than anything else in my universe. From at least the selfish view, giving my time is the most valuable gift I can give.

So when it comes to whatever it is I care about, I have to ask myself how much of my time, the ultimate commodity, I give to it. An hour a day? A day a week? A week a year? How many of my remaining minutes on this curious little planet will I invest in what matters most to me? How many things are there that I claim to care about, but haven’t spent time on in years? decades? Ever?

And if some of the things I care most about are people, I have to ask how I can best use my time to be of the most use to their time. Maybe instead of that boxed set of CDs, something nice but not particularly personal, I can make them dinner at my home: give them the gift of shared time. Or perhaps a night at the theater for them and their spouse (sans me). How about a babysitter for a day, or a gift certificate for an hour of my time to do whatever they ask me to do (including volunteering me wherever they want). Money and things sure are nice but there is always a simpler more personal way, that if done well, makes the largest possible difference.

The existential drive

If we believe in what we care about, the burden is on us to find ways to reward those who provide it. It doesn’t matter how small the scale is: it’s our scale. If all I have in rewards is a thank you, then that’s 100% of what I can give. If I get good service at a bar, I can write a sweet note on the check about how great her service was. If I can’t spare the cash for a beaucoup tip I can spare 15 seconds, some thoughtful words and some ink. Or I can look them in the eye and tell them they gave me the best service I’d had all day (an award, btw, it’s possible to give daily). There’s always some way I can reinforce the things that matter to me in the universe, and I’m the only one that can do it. And if they don’t accept my praise and rewards, or if it means less to them than it does to me, that’s fine. It still keeps my cares and behaviors consistent with each other. I can look someone, or myself, in the eye and say “I am who I think I am.”

But odds are good that acts of self-integrity are significant to others. If an independent musician makes a CD that’s heard by 5000 people, maybe 2500 will listen to more than a few songs, and 30% of those find one song they really like, and 10% of those will bother to tell anyone about it, maybe 1% of the whole pile ever gives any feedback to the person who made the thing in the first place. The result? Of the 5000 people who consumed what was made, a total of 7 people will return something to the originator. That’s less than 1%. A little thank you note may have real power, especially if I don’t come off as a weirdo (e.g. avoiding phrases like “I want to live forever in your pants!” and “Here’s 75,214 pictures of the daily shrine I pray to naked in your honor”) and have thoughtful things to say about how their work was of use, or made a difference.

I’m pledging to myself, and to any of you that have read this far, that I’m going to thank people who do things I value (For starters, thanks for reading). I’ll leave funny thank you notes, buy them annonymous flowers, shake their hand and look ’em in the eye, tell others of their work, and acknoweldge the difference they’ve made for me and I’ll try to do the same for others.

None of what I’ve written may matter to you, but I hope you’ll consider what does and do something about it.

References

  • Volunteer match: An easy way to difference making is to go find people who need help. This is a dating service type thing for matching volunteers to things that need them, searchable by zip code.
  • Make a difference day: What do you know: a whole day where people try to do stuff they think matters. I just wish there was a day like this, but with less goody-two-shoes polish, something aimed at getting sarcastic wise-ass people like myself to volunteer (finger on nose).
  • The myth of Sisyphus, Camus. I can’t entirely explain why but this is the unit of existential philosophy I go return to (Camus is to Satre, as cheesecake is to flan).
  • What should I do with my life?, by Po Bronson. This is the only what should I do book I’ve found that centers on real people’s stories: some happy, some sad, some confused, but since they’re all asking “what should I do” it’s more powerful and real than any prescriptive book.

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