Perhaps We Can Just Do One Thing

The other day, as it was raining and I was driving to meet a friend for coffee, I saw the nice homeless man down the street talking to a sheriff's officer.  I pondered the possible scenario.  Could it be Option 1 - a friendly conversation in which the officer was inviting him to get in his car so he could take him to a shelter or get a bite to eat since it was raining?  Or could it be Option 2 -- the officer running him off since it's probably against the law for him to stand there and ask for help?  And since it was probably Option 2, should I bring him some food and give him one of my umbrellas?  But since the officer was there, I decided to wait and see if he was still around when I finished with coffee.

About that time on the radio, NPR started interviewing folks in Haiti, and I got all sad and started to think about how I could better help the Haitians.  One would probably have to live off the grid these days to escape the news.  Whether you've shed some tears like I have to/from work this past week after listening to NPR, you've watched the news while eating dinner, or you've scoured the headlines online during breaks at work, folks across the world have bonded together in love and support of the Haitians during this tragic time.  I've overheard staff at work express their desire to go to Haiti to help.  I've had friends on Facebook dedicate countless statuses to give out suggestions for NGOs to donate to.  Everywhere you turn, someone has an idea for helping.  But even though I'm fortunate enough to be able to donate a little cash to help, it still doesn't feel like enough.

This feeling as though it's not enough reminded me of when I lived in India.  I saw incredibly tragic things each time I left our home, which is often the nature of living in the Third World.  I experienced many difficult emotions on a daily basis including sadness, frustration, fear, anger, concern and heartbreak.  Beggars - whether they were children, the disabled, or even the occasional dowry burn victim - knocked on our car window at every stoplight to beg for a few rupees.  Knowing that giving money directly to the beggars wasn't the best way to help, we tried giving things like juice boxes, fruit or pens.  That never felt like enough.  But, nothing ever really felt like enough.

One day I asked my Indian friend and colleague, Arfeen, for advice about how he felt I could help the most (since we couldn't possibly adopt every child or animal on the street!).  After thinking for a few minutes, he finally said, "Mandy, you just have to do one thing.  A wise uncle once told me that one of the best ways to help others is to take good care of your own."

I thought about what he said for a few days, and then I started to think about my life in India and whether I was taking good care of my own and whether I could do more.  So, I considered the folks we interacted with each day and set out to help my own.  Whether it was tutoring our maid's daughter in math or ensuring fair wages for my staff at work, I did what I could to help more.  Many things I probably did naturally, but since I was more consciously aware of my actions and how I could help out more, going the extra mile seemed to make a difference.  And though this didn't make me feel as if it was enough, it did feel better to know that I was doing what I could for my own.

And so while I was thinking about Haiti and how I can help out more, since it's next to impossible to physically be there to help out right now, I realized that I can continue to do one thing:  I can make sure I'm taking good care of my own.  As a whole, our country is much more fortunate than others.  But there are so many people who need help in our own communities.  And so if I define "my own," for me, it equals friends, family, colleagues and community.  Here are some ideas (with minimal or zero budget impact) I came up with in terms of how I can better help my own:

  1. Make time, and find a place to volunteer.
  1. Keep some granola bars in the car to give to the homeless at the traffic lights, but no matter what, make eye contact and smile.  Acknowledgment seems to go a long way if I can't help them out.
  1. Clean out the closet, and donate unused stuff to local nonprofit thrift stores (ex: Habitat for Humanity, Haven Hospice or Peaceful Paths) so that they can receive more revenue to fund their important causes.
  1. Go out of the way to make sure my friends and family know how much I love them and that they have support from me when they need it.
  1. Be friendly, smile and show the utmost respect to everyone I encounter each day, whether it be my colleagues, the grocery store's checkout clerks, other drivers, customer service representatives, or even waiters and baristas.

Some of the things on this list might be ways that I already help, but being more consciously aware of my actions might make me stretch a little further, which could make a bigger difference.

The Haitians certainly deserve all the love, donations, prayers and positive energy that we can send.  But while the experts are there to do the work that many of us are unable to do, better helping our own seems to be a good way to spend our time.  According to the World Bank, the world population is 6,692,030,277.  If each person in the world could do one thing more each day to help his or her own, that would be 6,692,030,277 things.  That seems like a lot of good and a lot of help.