"If there’s a world here in a hundred years, it’s going to be saved by tens of millions of little things. The powers-that-be can break up any big thing they want. They can corrupt it or co-opt it from the inside, or they can attack it from the outside. But what are they going to do about 10 million little things? They break up two of them, and three more like them spring up!"
- Pete Seeger, in YES! Magazine

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A year of living charitably

How difficult is it to do a little something helpful now and again? Is it really that tough to pick up an errant piece of trash and dispose of it properly? Does it really cramp our style to hold the door open for someone? To improve someone's day by offering a simple smile?

In this age of jam-packed schedules, never-ending technological distractions, and rush-rush-rush attitudes, are we really so busy that we can't lend a hand now and again?

I confess I get distracted, busy, and just plain grumpy, but it really isn't difficult to help out, and it doesn't have to take a lot of time to be neighborly, to help make our communities better places to live, to help the people around us feel better about themselves and the world in which we're living.

Plus, it feels really good. According to various studies, performing good deeds, volunteering or otherwise helping others reduces stress, increases longevity and provides a higher-quality life. In other words, if you can't bring yourself to help others for their sake, perhaps you'd do it for your own good health.

People sometimes talk about doing "good deeds" or donating to "charity." What does this mean?

While in the 21st century, "charity" has come to be interpreted as "financial assistance" or "donation," Mariam-Webster defines charity as, among other things, "benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity," "generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering," and "aid given to those in need." Charity is, then, the act of helping others.

"Deed"is defined as "something that is done," "a usually illustrious act or action," and "the act of performing."

So how often do we really perform charitable deeds? Have you ever thought about it?

Our family volunteers in various ways. Sure, we hold doors open for people, but the girls and I also volunteered for nearly two years as docents at our local natural history museum. We've picked up trash throughout our neighborhood and on outings. Last year we enjoyed handing out roses to complete strangers throughout one random day - the reward for us was nothing more than smiles, sometimes hugs, and always thanks.

But as we picked up trash at a local pier recently, I wondered: do we do something charitable every day? Once a week? Less often? How difficult would it be to do at least one charitable deed every single day? How might it change us and our community if we kept a better eye out for opportunities to lend a hand?

In 2009, the girls and I intend to find out. We'll keep track of our deeds, however simple or involved, and keep you posted on the response, the feeling it gave us and any long-term changes we see as a result of our actions.

If you like the idea, have projects in mind for us or would like to spread the love, please feel free to share this blog with your friend, family, and, sure, even foes. Post your thoughts here or drop me a line.

Happy New Year!