Wednesday, 3 February 2016

How to make a difference in the world

In my last blog I talked about how nobody can be too small or too insignificant to make a difference.  You make a difference all the time just by being who you are.  One person can make a real difference in the world, and if you have been reading my blog for a while you will have read stories of individuals who have done exactly that, sometimes in quite dramatic ways.

Some readers have asked me to be more specific.  "How can I make a difference?" seems to be a commonly shared question.

The first thing you must recognize is the importance of the little things.  These are the things that often truly make a difference in life.  If you run a business you will probably realize this.  Many of us who run businesses will have tried to find the really big change we can make and got frustrated we could not find it.  Those of us who remained successful probably did so by recognizing there is not one big thing we need to change but rather lots of little changes.  Each change of itself seems almost insignificant, but when you make a number of changes they multiply the effect rather than simply add to it.  It is the same with making things better in the world.  Do not expect there to be one big thing that jumps out and that you have to work on to effect change.  Almost certainly that will not happen.  You just have to do little things that improve the lives of those around you.

One of the first that comes to mind is expressing gratitude.  Too few people do this, so those who do make a significant change in the lives of people they meet - a good change.  Gratitude is really important.  Spend time thinking about all the things for which you should be grateful.  In many cases there will not be anybody specific you need to thank, but make sure you cultivate the habit of being grateful even when there is nobody to thank.  But there will also be lots of cases where there IS someone you can thank.  Make sure you do it, even if some time has passed.  There is a double benefit here.  You will almost certainly be making someone else feel really good, which can then multiply the benefit like ripples spreading out in a pond, but you will also be setting yourself up for receiving more of whatever it is you are grateful for.  Recognizing what you should be grateful for and then expressing that gratitude should become a habit.  Eventually you will do it without having to think about it, just like any other habit.  People will notice your gratitude and it will make you rather special in their minds.  It will encourage them to do even more things for you.  As I said, a double benefit.

Another important way of making a difference is to follow the Golden Rule.  In other words, always try to do to and for others what you would wish them to do to and for you.  Well, to be honest I would modify that rule slightly.  Empathize with those around you.  They may not actually want the things you want.  Try to feel what it is they would appreciate and do that for them.  The Golden Rule is a very good rule to use when you don't know people very well, so continue using it, but do everything you can to get to know people with whom you have any contact so you can treat them the way they would like to be treated.

As Gandhi said, be the change you wish to see in the world.  If, like so many Miss Worlds, you want there to be world peace, you have to start that within yourself.  Do everything you can to be a peaceable, non-violent person.  Whenever you are tempted to react in anger, pause.  Think about the situation from the perspective of the other person and modify your response.  Recognize that violence between countries and between people usually arises because of misunderstandings and the lack of ability to see things from a different perspective.  This attitude will then spread and "infect" those around you.  Unless you are the president or prime minister of a powerful country this is the only way you can create world peace, but believe me when I say it is very powerful indeed.

Think about what it is you do in life.  Your job for example.  If you really want to make a difference think about whether the work you do can make that difference.  If you are in a caring profession, for example nursing, teaching, social work etc, then it most certainly can.  These are jobs that make a difference.  But making a difference is certainly not restricted to these professions.  It may be that you will decide as a result to change career.  If not, then think about how you might change the way you work so that you make a difference to the lives of your work colleagues.

Be there for your friends.  This has so many meanings, and they are all important.  Yes, if a friend needs to know you are there to listen and sympathize then do that very simple but important thing for them.  Really listen to them and respond appropriately.  Do not be like the cartoon husband who just keeps saying "Yes, dear!" to his wife but isn't listening to a word she is saying.  When you are physically present, be mentally and emotionally present for them too.  Don't be like those you see who spend so much time texting friends who are not physically present that they pay no attention to those who are!  Be mindful, be aware, recognize the wonder that is around you - be fully focussed on what you are doing with your friends rather than thinking about, for example, what you are going to do next.

One practical tip which I mentioned in the previous blog, but which is so important I will say it again, is to smile.  Smiling is a universal sign of friendliness.  When you smile at someone it is much easier for them to smile back than to frown.  Believe it or not there was a study on this very subject in Sweden in 2002, where people were told to smile or frown when looking at photos of people smiling or frowning.  Sometimes they were told to smile in response to a frown or frown in response to a smile, and sometimes they were told to smile in response to a smile and frown in response to a frown.  The study proved beyond any doubt that if someone smiles at you it is easier to smile back than to frown.  Just think about this for a moment.  You smile at someone and this causes them to smile.  They may still be smiling several seconds later when they meet some other people.  Each of those people they meet then smile, and that too is reflected in the people they meet.  Just one smile from you can make an enormous difference.  Remember, when you smile you will be happier than when you frown.  Just as your inner emotions reflect physically in smiles or frowns, so those smiles or frowns reflect emotively in the way you feel. And yes, there have been scientific studies that prove this too!  So to create happiness in both yourself and those around you, simply smile!

There will certainly be plenty of things you can do to make a difference in the world that I have not listed here.  Each of us has very different circumstances and can effect change in so many different ways.  But if you try all of the above, and keep doing those things, I can promise you that the world will be a very much better place both for you and for those around you - and probably even for people the other side of the world through chance happenings of which you may never be aware!

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