Many of us want to give back to the community we live in. We dream of making the world a better place, but then fail to muster up the energy to follow through on our goals.
Giving back seems like hard work, doesn’t it? Some of us feel exhausted just thinking about it. Big projects and initiatives take loads of money and years to complete, so we convince ourselves not to help.
Instead we create a list of excuses:
- “It’s too much work.”
- “I don’t have the time.”
- “I’m just too busy.”
In fact, we give ourselves permission to stand idly by. Then console ourselves by saying, “I’ll help later.” You know at some point in time when we have fewer responsibilities and less to do. But what if that day never comes?
Giving back to the community seems like a daunting task filled with endless to-do lists and activities, but what if we stopped thinking on such a big scale. What if we tried to give back just a little?
Rather than making wide sweeping changes let’s start small and see if we can build on that momentum. Let’s begin by making a few minor adjustments that can have a big impact.
Here are a few easy actions to try that don’t take a lot of time or effort.
Smile More Often
A few years ago I read an article about a young man who planned to commit suicide after work. Before driving home he stopped at a store where a kind clerk looked him in the eyes and asked, “What are your plans tonight? Are you doing anything fun?”
According to the story the young man paused and said, “Maybe I’ll go home and watch a movie” and that’s just what he did.
That clerk acknowledged the young man’s existence. She looked him in the eyes and asked two simple questions. That’s it. The entire conversation probably took less than a minute, but who knows what would have happened if she hadn’t done either of those things.
Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find that article, but I’ve encountered similar ones over the years, like How a Single Smile From a Stranger Saved My Life.
The National Suicide Prevention Line includes a graphic on their Facebook page. It reads, “I heard about some people who tried but failed to commit suicide. Many of them said if a stranger had just acknowledged them with a smile or a wave, they wouldn’t have tried to end their lives.”
These stories may be oversimplifications, but if those small gestures could save someone’s life wouldn’t you want to try them?
Giving back to your community begins by recognizing those in your community. It starts with something as easy as a greeting and a smile. Let others know you see and recognize them.
A Short Story About a Janitor Named Fred
In college I was always running late to class. Every morning I dashed out of my dorm room simultaneously balancing books, food and drinks. After jogging down a flight of stairs, I rounded the corner past the lobby to the front door.
On my way out I gently kicked the handicapped button to open the door without using my hands. For the record I have extremely long legs, so I could push the button and have the door open precisely when I was ready to step out.
One morning, I heard a deep, booming voice call out, “Hey, what are you doing?” I turned and saw a large, gray-haired man in navy blue coveralls looking at me with a quizzical expression. “You are going to scuff up that wall kicking it with your shoes,” he continued.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s just really hard to open the door with all of this stuff in my hands.” I gestured toward all of the objects I was juggling when something fell from my hand. A wide smile grew across the old man’s face and he laughed. “I’ll let it slide this time,” he said with a grin.
That moment marked my first encounter with Fred; a janitor who cleaned the first floor offices in my dorm.
The next morning I saw Fred again. I walked right up to him and pointed to my backpack. “I can open the door with my hands today,” I said. He laughed this big, deep laugh that made me laugh too.
From that day forward I always stopped to chat with Fred before heading off to class. In a college dorm filled with students no one noticed the older, gray-haired man cleaning the floors.
Had Fred not stopped me, I probably wouldn’t have noticed him either, but I am forever grateful for that strange first encounter. I came to treasure our morning conversations.
Fred provided me with a lot of laughs and insights over those two years. Most importantly he taught me to look out for those who might otherwise blend into the backgrounds of our lives.
To Give Back to the Community We Must Recognize It’s Members
We pass so many people in a day, yet how many times do we fail to smile, wave or say hello? How can we build better communities if we don’t even reach out to the very people we walk by?
In order to give back to the community we must begin by acknowledging the people that exist around us. Reach out in some small way to those you pass throughout your day. Start by putting down your phone, making eye contact and saying hello.
Some people will wave back and others won’t. That’s okay. Just do your part. In fact, it may feel strange at first, but I promise it gets easier with time.
Fred taught me to pay attention to those who go unnoticed; the cleaning staff, the crossing guards, the checkout clerks and gas station attendants. I make a point to smile at all of them now.
Form Connections With People You Encounter
In this hurried, disconnected world many of us go from place to place without ever looking up at the people around us. How do I know? I’ve watched.
I stand at the deli counter waiting in line. When I finally get to the front I chat with Tim, (the guy that slices our cheese each week), about sports, music and the weather. I know that he likes to go to rock concerts and wears a jersey to support his favorite football team. None of the other shoppers speak to him other than to place their orders.
Doesn’t it make sense to say hi to a guy I see once a week? So why don’t I hear any other shoppers chatting with him?
The same thing happens when my husband and I go out to eat. We always ask the waiter or waitress his or her name and refer to them by name for the rest of our meal. Before we leave we specifically thank them for serving us.
When I drop my son off at preschool I say good morning to the new parents I pass. Those worried, first-time parents always look up and smile with relief. It helps to see a friendly face during a stressful, trying time. Luckily, smiles are contagious.
Ask Others If They Need Assistance
If you want to give back to your community start small. Ask elderly people if they need assistance. Wait an extra second and hand someone a shopping cart or let them walk in front of you.
Hold the doors for women with strollers. You would not believe how many people do not hold the doors these days. Sometimes people race in front of those poor mothers just so they don’t have to wait for them. Lend a helping hand.
If someone holds the door for you acknowledge their existence, smile and say thank you.
Look for small ways to help. Ask if someone needs help placing groceries on a conveyor belt or retrieving an item from a high grocery shelf.
Provide encouragement to those around you. Begin by pointing out those things that usually go unnoticed.
For example, tell your wife she cooked a ridiculously delicious pot roast. Let your kids know how much you appreciate their hugs and thank your husband for taking out the garbage.
Then praise your coworkers for their exceptional work and find ways to create a positive atmosphere.
If you receive great service in a store, restaurant or hotel thank the person and share your compliments with his or her manager. This is really easy to do with most customer service representatives as well.
Pick up Garbage
The other day I stood outside of my son’s preschool and watched as parent after parent stepped over a piece of paper that had fallen on the path between the parking lot and school.
If you see trash pick it up. You don’t need to get on chest high duck waders to clean the community stream. Just pick up pieces of garbage that are right in front of you.
Make your community a cleaner place to live.
Be a Good Neighbor
Get to know your neighbors. If you have older neighbors offer to shovel their snowy walkways or check on them after a storm.
Bake an extra batch of cookies and deliver them to their doorstep or simply ask your children to draw them some pictures or drop off hand-written cards. All of these tasks are easy to do and none of them take a significant amount of time.
Put Unwanted Toys On Your Curb
If you are purging your home or learning to live with less then you’ll need to find a new place for your unwanted stuff.
Nothing gets rid of toys faster than a sign that says, “free to good home.” Let other children in your neighborhood make good use of them.
Other families will be thrilled to get your unwanted hand-me-downs. Pass down your children’s clothing to neighbors too.
Giving back to the community doesn’t have to involve lots of time and hard work. All of these activities are simple. In fact, most of them take mere seconds to complete. Remember it’s better to do something small than nothing at all.