13 things we can do to make the world a better place
1. Care. Don’t underestimate the power of people reaching out to other people. You have blog friends, right? People you check up on now and again. If they posted something that struck you as sort of sad or blue, would you email them? Have you ever? Maybe you think you don’t know them well enough, or they won’t answer.
Well, I’ve emailed people I didn’t know well. Offered my ear if they needed it. Sometimes I get ignored. I figure they’ve got their support bases covered, and that’s all right with me. But imagine what that email would mean to someone who did need to hear somebody was listening?
2. Stand for something. “A man who stands for nothing, will fall for anything.” Strong words, right? You know who said them? Malcolm X.
What do you stand for? What are you passionate about? Injustice? Battered women? Starving children? Wars that make the rich richer and tear a country all to hell that’s already bleeding from so many wounds and so much loss that it could break a body’s heart?
When I was a teenager, I thought it was cool to be uncaring. Blasé. Nothing moved me; I was the ice woman. I could’ve looked death itself in the eye and said “Fuck you.”
Not anymore. These days, I don’t want to be around people who care for nothing. Who look away when they see wrongdoing or pretend it doesn’t exist. Or doesn’t matter because it doesn’t apply to them.
I care. But not about being cool.
3. Give back. What do you do for your community? How do you spend your time? No matter how bad off you are, there’s almost always somebody who’s got it worse. We could all do more, but we don’t.
I spent time one summer, living in a homeless mission when I was fourteen. Not because I was homeless but because it was considered a good learning experience. I cooked, I ladled soup, broke bread, cleaned, chewed the fat, and played checkers with men that society had thrown away. I learned from them, even though people would tell you they have nothing worth giving because it can’t be weighed or measured. All they had were their stories, but I fucking treasured them.
4. Listen. How often are you really there in a conversation? All the time? Can you say that? Or are you just sitting through their talk-y stuff so you can start rattling again? Are you engaged or just playing the part?
If we don’t step outside ourselves and really listen to other people, just put aside our own shit completely, understanding that we will have our time and this is not it, what kind of friends are we? Spouses? Parents? Listening is a dying art.
If everyone truly listened with an open mind, how many arguments would be avoided? But people listen with filters and assumptions and preconceptions. Conclusions are jumped (and they don’t like that, let me tell you). Makes ’em right cranky.
I’ve had friends who didn’t have time to be there for me. Not to listen, or whatever I needed. I’m not a needy person. I’m not shouting for emotional support 24/7. But you bet there’s a reason why I said “had” friends. Past tense. When people are important to me, I drop everything and spring into action, if they tell me they need me or need to talk. I am there, 100% in the moment.
For someone not to give that back, well, that’s like a dropkick in the face. And you can bet I don’t give them the chance to let me down again. This ain’t baseball, people. Friendship is way more than that, and you just don’t let down the ones you care about when they say, “I need you.”
When people tell me they’re too busy to listen to me or help me when I need it, you know what I hear? “I’m too busy for YOU.” People make time for the things that are most important to them. And if I don’t make the cut on their list, they sure as shit aren’t staying on mine.
5. Don’t Assume. We think somebody can’t tell us anything new. It’s just another old person, or just another Christian or just another…whatever. We’ve heard all their tired ol’ crap before, same song and dance, right?
But how do you know? Can you be sure? If two people in dress clothes come to your door with pamphlets, do you slam the door in their faces without hearing a word? It has to be the Jehovah’s Witnesses, so who wants to listen to their crazy asses when people have shit to do?
And maybe 9 times out of 10 it is. Maybe even 99 times out of a 100. But what if that 100th time, it was somebody raising money for literacy. They wanted to show you some statistics on the declining reading levels. When people start slamming doors, it just gets easier and easier, both physically and mentally. New ideas get shut out.
6. Be a philanthropist. I understand, people can’t give millions of dollars and get hospital wings named after them. But small donations add up too. If the average person gave $20 a year to their charity of choice, you know how that would add up?
No, you don’t get plaques or trophies or your name in lights. But that’s not the point. The point is making the world a better place, a place we can be proud to live in.
I donated a book to Equality Now. All proceeds go directly to Amanda Sullivan — the check gets cut in her name. Whether that’s $20 or thousands of dollars, I’m trying to make a difference. Stone Maiden is a particularly appropriate book. Here’s what a fan said about the heroine:
Muir: Her quiet strength, loyalty, willingness to sacrifice and absolute faith make her a wonderful heroine. Watching her develop and grow from being totally subservient until she is, for all intents and purposes, the most powerful and important person in two societies, is a beautifully told story. I love the way you portrayed her transition from being a totally subservient woman to one who is powerful and in control yet chooses to give and sacrifice without diminishing her strength and power in any way. She is a remarkable character.
Amanda Sullivan wrote:
“Thank you very much for your support of Equality Now. We are touched that you have chosen to support us in this way, through your work.”
And that’s enough for me.
7. Be positive. Stay away from people who put you down and don’t believe you can succeed.
I believe in sisterhood.
I’d like to see the day when women celebrate each other’s achievements and care about each other in a way that doesn’t include talking about how fat somebody is, or what a whore she is, or stupid, or untalented, or whatever. I’m talking about personal attacks, mind you. Not whether I like Sally’s new book. A book is not a person, no matter what some artsy-fartsy may say about having poured her soul into the thing. Unless she used wormwood, baby blood, and black candles made from the fat of a slaughtered virgin lamb, there ain’t no soul inside a book.
And no, you don’t want to know how I know that.
Womanhood could be biggest and best club that anybody could belong to, but instead we want to break it down into cliques and go around chattering like we were fifteen again and none too bright. You know what? It’s foolishness.
I understand people don’t get along, the world is not all rainbows, puppies, and butterfly kisses, but sometimes lines need to be drawn. Why not avoid the people that rub you the wrong way?
I believe in turning the other cheek. Not my face, mind you. I’m not opening myself up to be slapped, if they were dumb enough to do me like that. That’d be my butt cheek, thank you, and if people don’t like my message, they can kiss my ass while I walk away.
8. Don’t complain. My favorite quote in the whole world expands on this: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” —Maya Angelou
She’s such a wise woman and a great speaker. I don’t know what else I can add to this. But I’ll try. All the belly-aching in the world never changed anything. If you don’t know what to do to make the change you want happen, then you need to figure it out. Because bitching in emails, on the Internet, to your friends, to your preacher, ain’t gonna get you nothing but a sore throat and maybe sore fingers.
The woman who complains about her no-good husband all day long never gets shit done until she packs her bag and calls a cab.
Don’t talk, act.
And if you feel like you’re fucked, no matter what you do, hold your head high and remember, “This too shall pass.” Sometimes it’s not much comfort I know, but life is constantly evolving. And what seems hopeless today may look brighter tomorrow. All you can do is hold your head up and behave in a way that makes you feel proud of the way you’re bearing your own personal load.
I used to envy other people. Wonder why this or that was so easy for them. But I eventually figured out I can’t walk anyone’s road but mine.
9. Smile. This may sound lame to you, but I’ve found, if you make yourself, even when you’re dying on the inside, things feel a little lighter. People smile back. You stop feeling so alone.
There’s some truth in the whole “fake it til you make it” saying. I’ve come to decide that happiness is more a choice than a butterfly that comes to light magically on your shoulder at its own whim.
Some people could be happy if they had one leg, no shoes, and a walking stick. And some people would complain if they had a bag of gold… cos it was too damn heavy.
I’m not Mary Poppins. I get in shitty moods like anybody else where I’d like to give a priest a finger and ask him why is the world like this if there’s really a god who gives a shit about us? But I don’t let those moods move in and stay anymore. I make ’em move on by pushing that shit out of my head. And I smile.
10. Love yourself. Fat, thin, black, white, straight, gay, bi, Jewish, Buddhist, whatever. Love what you are, as you are. Because if you have any self-hatred going on, you’re gonna transfer that shit to the people who also display the traits you secretly hate about yourself.
Accept yourself 100%, as you are, no wishing you could have smaller hips or bigger tits or shinier hair or whiter teeth. No wishing you could sing or dance, or had a rich daddy. People who do that have a much easier time in taking other people as they come, easy-peasy.
11. Recycle. This is self-explanatory. We are ruining the world we live in, but it’s not too late. We can live green and try to reverse the damage we’ve done. If we care. If we try.
12. Pay it forward. Perpetrate random acts of kindness. Hold the door for someone. Give the guy in line ahead of you that penny he’s scrounging for. Smile and say, “Hi, how are you?” to someone you don’t know.
When was the last time you did something nice for somebody, just because? Not a family member, either. Just a random person. Can you name the last time? What was it?
13. Keep an open mind. People who stop trying new things, new ideas, well, they stagnate. You know that grouchy old bastard who mumbles about “kids today” and their wild music, and stopped watching TV when Dragnet went off the air? You don’t want to wind up that way.
Listen to world music, learn about a new culture, take belly-dancing lessons, learn Russian. Never, ever stop trying to expand your horizons, or one day you may find your world has shrunk to four walls and a roommate who pisses himself.
I’m not saying you won’t wind up in a home someday anyway, but at least you’ll be the coolest motherfucker up in there, what with your Thai cooking, your tai-chi, belly-dancing, Russian speaking, geriatric ass.
I’m gonna leave y’all with my favorite poem now (about how we lose the “living” in the day-to-day business of our lives) because I’ve bared my soul tonight, and frankly, I’m feelin’ a little emo.
When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple
with a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
and satin candles, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired
and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
and run my stick along the public railings
and make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
and pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
and learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
and eat three pounds of sausages at a go
or only bread and pickles for a week
and hoard pens and pencils and beer nuts and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
and pay our rent and not swear in the street
and set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.