The economy is still limping along. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and heat waves are getting more severe and frequent. Incidents of gun violence pepper the news with numbing regularity, the government is deadlocked over student loans, many still oppose LGBT rights or abortions, our Fourth Amendment rights are being undermined by the government, and that just scratches the surface.
Abroad, civil wars are being fought, human rights violated, children dying of malnourishment, and dictators oppressing people who can’t even find a cup of clean drinking water.
With so many problems plaguing our world, the future can seem hopeless. It’s easy to feel disempowered in the face of so much suffering and conflict. However, you can take action that will make a real difference in the world. Here’s a list of six inspiring ways to help heal the planet.
1. Mind your carbon footprint
If you’re concerned about global warming or the health of the environment, you can reduce the impact that you and your family have on the world’s natural resources.
Recycling, reducing water usage, employing energy-efficient methods to save electricity, driving less and using a bike or public transportation more, eating locally grown and organic foods, taking local vacations instead of long-distance trips that require flight, picking up litter, avoiding single-use products like Ziploc bags, swapping out plastic shopping bags for reusable cloth bags (even better if they’re made of organic cotton), buying a hybrid, electric, or bio-diesel vehicle when you’re ready for an upgrade … these are all ways to make a positive impact on the world.
2. Exercise purchase power
If you’re tired of the vast disparity of wealth in our country — not to mention the rest of the world — and you’re frustrated with large corporations evading taxes and buying influence in the government, and saddened each time you see a main street storefront go up for sale, take a stand with your pocket book.
It’s true that many families are struggling to get by, and for them shopping at Wal-mart may seem like they only way to put food on the table. But the truth is that corporations like Wal-mart have made it nearly impossible for small businesses — and by proxy, local communities — to thrive.
Wal-mart’s prices aren’t lower because its owners are nice, they’re lower because of purchasing power. Buying items in extreme bulk makes them cheaper, and because independent owners don’t order as much, they receive lower discounts. The solution? Pay the extra dollar to the local store.
These stores employ fewer workers at higher salaries (and with benefits), so the money spent goes back into the community in a way that creates upward mobility. Buying from large companies can stunt economic growth because these businesses avoid hiring full-time employees and often don’t pay a living wage. This cripples local economies because local workers are kept below the poverty line.
That’s not all. Consider your purchase power once you’re inside the store too. New smart phone apps like Buycott can scan an item’s bar code and tell you instantly (based on your preset preferences) whether you want to buy a company’s item or avoid it.
These apps are easy to use, and allow you to empower companies you respect while avoiding companies you don’t.
3. Listen before you speak
If you watch the news and are dismayed by fights between groups of people who never seem to see the other side of an issue — resolve to set an example by forcing yourself to listen more and speak less. Many great things come from open dialogue, but nothing is ever achieved if people on each side of every issue are simply waiting for their turn to speak.
Listening is an important practice that becomes easier over time. It teaches tolerance, it broadens your perspective, and it generates empathy. A practice called “active listening” has even been designed by psychologists to produce the best outcomes in relationships.
4. Volunteer your time
There are so many ways to volunteer time for a cause, and the amount you invest can be completely up to you. There’s no way to be too busy; find one day a month, or three days a year, and designate those as volunteer days. You’ll find the act of volunteering is so rewarding, you’ll actually want to put other activities aside and do it again.
Pick an issue that’s close to you, whether it be raising cancer awareness, working with animals, cleaning up the environment, or helping to feed the homeless, and use the Internet to research local groups that are already in place where you can offer your services or aid.
If you’re concerned by the ethnocentrism of your peers, if you suspect that wearing a burqua does not make someone a terrorist, if you believe that skin color is merely a biological response indicating nothing more than an individual’s original proximity to the equatorial line, then traveling around the world is a great way to expand these notions.
Visiting new places increases cultural awareness, heightens sensitivity toward a variety of lifestyles, enhances empathy, and bonds humanity. There’s no better way to understand the plight of others than by experiencing it first-hand. Consider turning a trip to a foreign country into a volunteer expedition. Be prepared to open yourself to new experiences and share yourself with strangers.
6. Adopt a child or become a foster parent
At home and abroad, orphanages are filled with children who have no home. These children may grow up, age out of the system, and wind up on the streets. Drugs, prostitution, and inevitable homelessness are the social outcomes of a struggling foster system. The act of adopting or fostering just one child can reduce a slew of societal ills, changing more than one life for the better.
While many parents choose to adopt from abroad, adopting within the US is also an option. It’s one of the single most important steps you can take toward healing our broken world.