Some years ago – actually it was quite awhile back – I spent a day working as a volunteer at a local Toronto mission. My mission: To assist under-privileged people and families with their collection of free groceries and toys for the holiday season. I am sure on some level I had wondered if doing this would make me feel as though I had helped someone or some people in a small way. However I walked away that day feeling a bit confused.
Now this might have had something to do with the fact that the people “in need” I encountered that day didn’t really strike me as people truly in need of winter necessities such as food and warm clothing. They had mobile phones (nice ones). They had fancy footwear. They likely have access to health care and medicine. Upon returning to Canada in 2007 after living overseas for 3 years, and having traveled to some of the more destitute areas of India, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, ‘needy’ certainly became a relative term. Clearly, our privileged nation’s definition of the word should not soon be used as a global benchmark, and I found myself with a newfound gratefulness for the country I live in, and the kind of life I lead in it.
What did surprise me was how quickly the volunteer positions at the mission had filled up for December. The entire month was booked solid, and the few spots left were being zapped up faster than the latest version of the iPhone. The rest of the calendar year for volunteer spots remained pretty free. So it just seemed to me that Christmas has become that time of year where people suddenly scramble about in a quest to inhale as much holiday spirit and goodwill as possible. Not so terrible in theory, but what about the other 11 months of the year?
In what are many people’s zany, fast-paced, and somewhat unpredictable worlds today, where so many of us are searching for ways to add meaning to our lives and give back to society, it begs the question: What is the best way that people can consistently make a positive feel-good contribution?
I believe that one of the easiest and most effective ways that people can collectively give back to society is one that costs us minimal time and effort: Through small and simple acts of kindness, each and every day, throughout the year. Just by being kind, considerate and caring to our fellow human beings, we can begin to truly help a troubled world. The next time you see someone struggling with a bunch of grocery bags, offer to help. Someone short on change at the cash register in front of you? See what you can do about it. Spend time with family and children. Reach out to colleagues and people you interact with every day. Don’t be shy. Smile and say hello. Pay them a compliment if one comes to mind. People appreciate it, and small acts of kindness and genuine warmth and sincerity stay with us long after they have been granted.
It is easy to be generous with money during gift-giving occasions, or when natural disasters strike. But isolated acts of generosity turn it into something that is reserved for special times. I encourage everyone to make the effort to carry “goodwill toward man” into 2013 and well beyond.
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