"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

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year-end Wrap Up - What I Learned

The project:
Perform one charitable deed each and every day in 2009.

Sometimes moments, sometimes hours or even days completing numerous deeds over the course of the year.

Why bother?
We live in a rough and tumble world where it seems people are becoming increasingly alienated from each other. Times have certainly changed from those in which tribal members depended upon each other, neighbors counted on each other in times of need, watched after each other, or at least knew each other on sight. Thanks to technology and a shift in cultural values, it seems we have too many "more important things" to do than to take the time to play active roles in building healthy communities. In most cases, there are two incomes to maintain in addition to the household and, for many, children. There are vehicles to maintain, the Internet to surf, cable shows with which we just MUST keep pace.

Or so it seems.

In fact, if we want to live in healthier, happier communities, we need to turn off the TV and the Internet now and again, to walk our neighborhoods, to step back from the self-imposed social obligations and take a breath, to do with a little less so we can afford this time together. In doing so, we can all see what needs to be done to make our communities safer, healthier places.

As 2008 came to a close, I wondered what difference a family might make if it performed just one thing every single day to help build community, to help neighbors, family, friends and strangers. They didn't have to be big things; little gestures were welcome as well as grander projects. Would it make a difference at all? (These were my original thoughts.) I opted to blog about our family's experiences throughout the year in hopes of inspiring others to contribute to their communities, and to keep us on track.

Worth it?
Making the effort and sharing our actions through this blog were worth the time and energy, though I confess it was a sort of depressing project in the end. We started out with plenty of energy and performed some larger projects early in the year, but it didn't take long to see these efforts were less than a drop in the bucket. Trash picked up today didn't help an area become less trashy; there would be trash there again on our next visit. If anything, I learned my deeds alone, however small or grand, don't make enough of a difference. I need help. We all need each other's help to make this world a safer, healthier, happier place.

The world has bigger problems than trash in the streets; problems homemade blankets and door opening can't even begin to resolve. There are bloody wars going on all over the world. Gang violence breeds a different sort of terrorism right here in our own country. People are starving while others grow fat, many on foods advertised as healthy but, in fact, deathly by design. Too many drink their bathwater, or no water at all, while others flush it down the drain in the name of attractive decor. Pop stars and politicians demonstrate a declining moral code, though I suspect this can be blamed on a media glut as much as a shift in basic character.

It was that lack of character, I believe, which helped me become disenchanted with several programs as I came into contact with too many recipients who lack the character to understand these programs were put into place to help those truly in need, not to make life easier for slackers. Something is wrong when people too lazy to look for a job choose instead to pick up donations of free food from pantries or meal programs intended for those IN NEED. Something is wrong when toys intended for children with little or nothing are picked up by children who are happy to tell you about the new flat-screen TV their parents just installed, or the gifts awaiting them under the tree.

It was also disappointing to learn that I couldn't even make a change close to home. I'm not sure there were any fewer litterbugs in my neighborhood after we started picking up trash. There still seemed to be as much trash as ever as incredibly inconsiderate people opted to toss their trash out car windows or into the gutters as they walked or rode their bikes rather than to continue carrying it to a trash can. Taking the trash cans in (or out) for neighbors, picking up their newspapers when they were out of town, didn't spark more neighborly assistance.

It would be easy to give up, like too many others, withdraw into our little home and say, so be it, let someone else lend a hand, I'm too busy. It would be so easy to allow those freeloaders to put a damper on a donor's spirits, to take the wind out of the sails of a volunteer. But what purpose would that serve? Still there would be people in need of our help, whether or not we ever see them.

If anything, I learned we all need to do more - MUCH more. If everyone would pick up after themselves, if everyone would lend a hand to a neighbor or a stranger, if everyone would turn off the media and start thinking for themselves, maybe then we could turn the tide. If we spent more money on protecting humanity than we do competing with each other regardless of the cost if we spent more time enjoying each other than fighting with each other, if we'd take the time to listen to each other and hear the needs, maybe then we could be the ones to make the difference. Until then, some of us will continue to lend a hand, rise to the occasion and try to make a difference one charitable deed at a time.

What will YOU do to make a difference?

Photos courtesy Teseum, Franco Folini, Thomas Hawk and Haldun Kececegil under Creative Commons license.Share this post with:


  1. I, too began the year with a whirlwind of grand ideas, and a ton of energy to follow in your example of the charitable deed idea. And, as time progressed, I found myself having the same thoughts of whether or not the things I was doing was making A BIT of a difference in the 'big picture'.
    However, I remembered the Starfish story, and figured that every act that family and I were doing WAS making a difference... A difference IN US, and how we live within our world and our communities. So, onward and upward. I say that those of us that can, should keep right on doing what we know and feel is the good and right thing to do! I am.

  2. You are very inspiring! Congratulations on a year of change, be it big or small. I have enjoyed the trip vicariously. And, yes, your family did make a difference!

  3. I have just retired from teaching. In between meeting all the curriculum standards, the schools at which I worked focused on teaching children to give back to the community in either service or goods. Sometimes it was making things for a senior center. Other times it was gathering items for tsunami victims. We had litter patrols, too. Giving back needs to be a part of everyone's daily routine. Every thing you do to teach your children to give back to their community makes a huge difference in the long run no matter how insignificant it seems at the time. I say congratulations to you for teaching your children well.


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