Before I explain how you can help, I must tell you a story.
A few years ago I ended a twenty year love affair with money and drugs, and shifted my priorities. For years though, I had no idea my priorities were askew. I loved my wife and kids, went to church, and thought myself a good person, despite some "weaknesses" and a colorful past.
Then I woke up.
I sensed my life slipping away, so I got clean. And when I did, the fog lifted. Immediately, I noticed beauty where I hadn't before. I also saw the world as sick, and I wanted to change it. So I stopped chasing money, went to school to study philosophy, and started writing.
A lot has happened since then—not so much in the way of effecting change in the world, but in walking a path of self-discovery. And I've learned a few things:
Lesson One: Contribution
People often want to change the world because they want to be recognized for doing so. That's not to say they don't have good motives, too. But those who really make a difference in the world aren't motivated by the idea of being admired. Instead, they focus on contribution, and they contribute however they can, great or small.
Lesson Two: Compassion
Nothing is so universally understood as compassion. It supersedes all moral systems, all religions, all sense of duty or obligation. Compassion is borne of a genuine love for other human beings; it is unmistakable. As such, it has power to dissolve barriers and conquer divides. It is our most endearing trait and our greatest ally in inspiring and effecting a better world.
Lesson Three: Creativity
Creativity is the antidote to over-consumption—the source of our sickness. Creativity is oft neglected in favor of escapism and entertainment. But creative work fulfills us in ways that consumerism never can. And creativity is less a talent than it is a mode of operation; it's a way of interacting with the world. If satiation of soul is what we want, then creative engagement must replace our wasted efforts to fill endless appetites.
Start With Community
Socrates believed that community was made better by cultivating genuine friendships through love and ethical virtue. It was on the basis of love for his community, that when sentenced to death by Athens' elders, instead of fleeing, he awaited execution while philosophizing with friends. Today, it isn't hard to argue that the world is better as a result of Socrates's unpretentious contributions to his community.
Each of us belongs to several communities: a family, a neighborhood, a community of friends, an educational organization, a workplace, an online community, a religious or political group, a sports team—you get the idea. The point is to pick one, and offer something to it.
- Identify a community where you can contribute, and start by doing just one thing.
- Study what it means to live compassionately, and make an effort to do so.
- Limit consumptive behaviors by replacing them with creative, replenishing pursuits.
Then, we do this day-in and day-out and trust that the results will be good. I think this is where we start. At least for now.