Life doesn’t always offer us ways of making major changes overnight, either to ourselves or our environments, but it frequently offers us chances to take tiny steps that together can add up to major changes for both ourselves and those around us.
1. Don’t use more than you need, and reuse what you can
Consuming too much of anything, including sugar, is bad for your health and the environment. By strategically deciding where you spend your money, and making choices that are more ecologically responsible, you are doing good while setting a good example for others.
2. Spend more time understanding than judging, and use your understanding to improve the situation
We are frequently confronted with behavior, stories, needs, and situations foreign to our own experience. It is easy to reject these simply because we cannot directly identify with them, but in reality no one does anything without some type of reason (even if this reason is not consciously aware to them). By understanding you can gain a better ability to influence the situation and are less likely to forget the humanity of the people involved. Instead of treating people perpetrating problems as the problem, it may be possible to work with them to help solve the root causes of the problem.
3. Don’t remain quiet about injustice
Remaining quiet about injustice is akin to accepting it: don’t do it. Whether the injustice is on a personal, institutional, or digital level: don’t simply tollerate it. Every voice and action in opposition to injustice helps inspire others, helps raise awareness for the cause or situation, and helps the wronged know they aren’t invisible.
4. Help where you can, and if you can’t help: don’t hurt
This is a modified version of the hippocratic oath (not related to hypocrisy), which essentially says that a doctor vows to do no harm. There will be situations where we don’t know what to do, and in these situations our first concern should probably be to do no harm.
5. Be nice to those who have done you no wrong, even if you are under stress
Obviously this doesn’t extend to tollerating abusive behavior, but in general we would all benefit by treating those close to us with respect and kindness. Allowing stress unrelated to those we love to spill over into other relationships has an impact on those relationships. Anger has a role to play in human interaction, but it should be displayed in the relevant contexts and not projected onto those we care about.
6. Talk about important topics EVERYWHERE that it could be appropriate
Small talk is an effortless way to drain social interaction of its meaning, and limits the exchange of important information between humans. If you are at a party, a debate, part of a social club, or partaking in any number of non-goal-oriented social activities: don’t hesitate to talk about what you think is important. There are so many things going on right now, some even impacting human survival, and yet these topics get relatively little attention in groups. By ignoring important information when we talk we literally only help stabilize the status quo and convince our fellow humans that nobody cares… the fact is that many of us do care and we are energized by the exchange of such important information.
7. Understand that you should acknowledge every opinion, but that doesn’t make that opinion correct or informed
A common misconception is that an opinion cannot be wrong, which is ironically an opinion that is in itself wrong. We live in a world where there are facts, there are opinions, and then there are opinions about facts. Although a simple opinion about how “good” or “delicious” or “vibrant” something is cannot really be wrong, an opinion about a fact can most certainly be wrong. If your opinion is that humans listening to Beethoven can fly like birds, then you jumping off a cliff with headphones on would quickly prove to you that opinions can easily be wrong.
8. Hold people, including yourself, responsible for their actions
One of main drivers of injustice in our world is the expectation of avoiding responsibility. This can be caused by cognitive deficits (an inability to process responsibility for one’s own actions, experienced as dissassociation) or simply experience and legal precedent. In China and Taiwan, drivers regularly seek to kill anyone they hit with their car: they literally drive over the bodies of children multiple times to make sure they are dead… this is done because the legal system does not hold these drivers responsible and it is cheaper and easier for them to simply run over a small child’s head several times than to pay for the injuries of the child.
We can see other similar patterns of irresponsible behavior by police and politicians in the United States and beyond. An expectation of avoiding responsibility fosters and supports irresponsible behavior, and we each need to play a role in holding those in our houses and localities responsible for their behavior.
9. Help build up and stabilize your community
Network and help improve the community you live in. This can come in the form of discussion groups, shared meals, community projects, or working to influence the local political process to more closely resemble the interests of those in the community.
I hold talks and discussions, as well as help plan projects, at the highschool located next to my university, but how you choose (or are best able) to help your community is up to you.
10. Never give up hope in the potential of humanity to do good
This might sound corny, but a refusal to believe that humans are capable of good makes personally doing good more difficult. Each and every one of us is human, and we differ primarily in the frequency and intensity of thoughts/impulses instead of absolutes. No matter who you are: you can do good for humanity and your community, and not just superficially.
The only “after-life” you are ever guaranteed is that your actions will release ripples into the world at large that will continue to have influence indirectly long beyond your presence.