So many of us look at the world and wonder what's gone wrong. How did everything get so messed up? Why is there so much hate in the world? What are people thinking? Why can't anything be easy? Why can't we all just get along?
The most optimistic of us continue to hold out hope that things will get better. Wars will cease, racism and other forms of oppression will fade, diseases will be cured and people will all get along. But how all this will come to pass remains a mystery. Will it happen because we simply wish it to be . . . as if by magic?
Anyone who has studied psychology or who has been in therapy themselves has likely learned that we can't change the world, and, we've learned that the only thing we can change is ourselves. Well, that's half right. When we change ourselves, we change the world also, albeit it indirectly. So how do we change our wishes for the world into goals? What's the plan?
The plan is to start with ourselves. Do you wish the world was a friendlier place? Be a friendlier person. Do you wish people wouldn't judge others so harshly? Try not to judge. Does hatred and intolerance offend you? Try to show more love and acceptance. You might not be able to personally put an end to the genocide in Darfur, but you can reach out to those in your own communities who are oppressed or excluded. You might not be able to stop the fighting in Iraq, but you can interact peacefully with those around you.
The truth is that we can change the world, little by little, just by changing ourselves. The change may not be grand or sweeping, it may in fact seem inconsequential. But just as one smile can generate another, so too can one small act of kindness or patience or understanding inspire others to act in kind. We make small changes within our own little spheres of influence and then we can stand back and watch as they ripple outward into the larger world.
Who knows whose small act of kindness will be the one to start the rescue effort; whose willingness to reach out in understanding will lead to the cease-fire? Who is to say that it might not be your smile or handshake that leads to world peace. Oh, go ahead and laugh . . . but who is to say?
Hold the door for your elderly neighbor, comfort the lost and crying child, offer a smile and some words of comfort and understanding to the frazzled and irritable waitress who has screwed up your order. How far will the ripples of your small efforts flow? There is only one way to know. Be the change you wish to see in the world and then stand back and watch. The influence of your actions may travel much farther than you think.
Do you have any inspiring stories to share - times when a small action on your part had a significant impact on your life, someone else's life, your neighborhood or the world at large? If so, we'd love to hear it.