As a young person, this question was often posed in my family around the dinner table. Sometimes the answer could be as simple as the fact that we had shared a treat, helped the teacher, learned a new skill, or was friendly to someone who needed it. As I look back, I see that it had a powerful influence on my siblings and me. We were reminded that every day was an opportunity to make a difference in the world. It also taught us that you didn’t have to have fame, fortune, and power in order to matter. Even kids could do something worthy. In this simple conversation we shared and reinforced my parent’s values and learned to respect each other. I have always had confidence that my brothers and sisters have strength of character and are sources of good in the world.
Much is made of philanthropy these days. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and others are role models for how individuals can make investments in the world that really change lives and even whole societies. I read an article yesterday about some of the young tech crowd who are using their wealth to achieve social ends rather than buy big homes and cars. It is wonderful to see that young people of means can do more than party hard. I applaud their admirable values and generosity.
But do you have to be mega wealthy in order to make a difference?
Given my family’s dinner conversation you can guess that my stance is that everyone can and most do contribute to the world everyday. We see it not only in random acts of kindness, but also in the civility that governs our interactions, the products of our work that make life easier and better for others, the beauty added in our landscaping, and the sparks of fun that we enjoy as we walk through our days with our friends and family.
I have a French bulldog named Sadie. She is a goofy looking dog. Walking through my neighborhood with her is a treat. It’s a rare person that doesn’t react to her friendly overtures. There are lots of homeless people in my part of downtown but Sadie doesn’t discriminate between them and the middle class tourists from Iowa. It is amazing to see how they all respond to her slobbery affection. If Sadie can make a difference in the world, surely we can too.
So tonight around your dinner table, let the conversation be about what a difference you each made today!
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