How you can change the world
Stories help us to understand the world, each other, and ourselves; they foster compassion. And, I must say, I’m a collector and teller of stories. As the gifted poet Ben Okri put it: ‘Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.’
His words are particularly pertinent now. Take the news for a moment. I’ve lost count of the times I have heard bright, brave people say they have ‘stopped reading the news’ due to intense feelings of anxiety.
Why? Because we hear, read and see 24-hour rolling stories about war, famine, disasters, human cruelty and injustice, and are told these stories without hope or proposed solutions. It’s overwhelming. We get scared. We think: what’s the point? It’s disempowering and has a detrimental effect on the state of everyone’s mental health. It does little to improve any of the problems we face.
But there are other, lesser-told stories, harder to find, but out there, in abundance. Stories about incredible acts of kindness, about grass-roots movements popping up in communities all over the world, groups of people or individuals taking on a problem and making a start to change it; stories of people who have changed laws, saved lives, who have changed the course of history.
Then there are the stories about active citizenship rather than passive consumerism; about people standing up, not standing by. These are the epic stories of the times we live in. Revolutionary, radical and transformative.
REVOLUTION IN THE MAKING
Of course there are plenty of battles still to fight for human equality, harmony and unity. We have to find a way of thriving without damaging the earth. We have enormous challenges ahead of us. We always have had, and we’ve got this far.
So here’s the good news. You can change the world. Yes, you. You can make a real difference to your small part of the world and, by doing so, positively affect the larger world around you. Better still, by doing so, you will be less afraid and have more hope and happiness.
You can start right now. You don’t need money, or an organisation, or to be in a position of power to begin. You just need to start writing your own story. What those other stories have in common is each started with someone making a decision to do something, and making a start by doing just one small thing. This is how we do it.
FEEL THE ANGER. FIND THE HOPE. TAKE ACTION.
Start by asking yourself what you would like to change about the world? What makes you angry/sad/scared? For example, perhaps one of the things is the amount of plastic dumped into the oceans. It might not be the only thing, but it is definitely one of the things that annoys you most.
Start by exploring possible solutions. Spend some time researching. You will find groups of people all over the world organising clear ups, education initiatives and campaigns. Soon you’ll have found some ideas you can copy or shape to get you started.
Next take action – here you have choices. I believe the best thing to do is take it right back to a local level (you may not live near the ocean but you will no doubt have a park, a wood, a lake or a patch of earth that could do with a tidy. Get a bag, get some gloves and get stuck in.)
Let people know you’re taking action by telling them or posting it on social media. Make sure you are enjoying yourself, it’s much easier to keep anything up if it’s fun – and when people see you having fun they’re much more likely to join in. The longer you carry on, the greater the chance of others being inspired by you, and of them feeling empowered to do the same. The very least you’ll do is improve the little patch of earth you live in.
PEACE BEGINS AT HOME
This is how we change the world, by doing our bit. At the heart of all small acts is kindness, a revolutionary force for positive change. Share your umbrella with a stranger on a rainy day, help a neighbour carry their shopping up the stairs, surprise your gran with a phone call – all of these have ripple effects that are enormously powerful and give us hope.
On the 21st of this month it is the United Nations’ International Day of Peace. Here’s a challenge for every one of us on this important day: let peace start with each of us. Let’s contribute by channelling our own anger positively, by exploring productive ways of discussing issues with those we disagree with, and by supporting local, national and international organisations who protect and defend those suffering or fleeing conflict. And by saying sorry, when we need to.
We can’t stop war, prevent climate change, or eradicate poverty or slavery, on our own. But we can each do our part.
So let’s make a start with something small. Let’s live and write and tell and share those stories that conquer fear, so we might all have the chance to live happily ever after.
The Little Book of Kindness by Bernadette Russell is published this month by Orion Spring, priced £7.99.
We’d love to hear your stories of how you’ve helped to make your community a better place to live. Get in touch on Twitter: @BalanceLDN
FIND YOUR BALANCE
Three small things you can do to change the world – now!
In 2015 in Iran, the idea of ‘Walls of Kindness’ began. Donated items are still hung on the wall for the poor, with the mottos: ‘leave if you do not need’ and ‘take if you need’. The idea quickly spread and last winter, all over London, clothes rails were set up to encourage people to leave their old coats for others. Why not start your own wall this year?
Seeds of Change
Since 2004, office worker Richard Reynolds has been making London greener and more bee-friendly by secretly planting flowers in shabby patches of public space. He’s gardened in playgrounds, high streets and traffic islands. And you can too. Find a patch of neglected earth, tidy it up and get planting! See Guerrilla Gardening.
It’s simple: walk into a coffee shop, buy one for yourself and pay for one extra for someone in need (don’t forget to let your server know what you’re doing). Anyone in need may ask for your ‘suspended coffee.’ Find out which London coffee shops are taking part at Suspended Coffees.
Read more: 6 ways to volunteer in London