This evening I attended a lecture given by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I read “Half the Sky” during pre-service training when I was in Lesotho and thought they would have some interesting things to say. The married couple is promoting a new book, “A Path Appears” about opportunities to make a difference in the world and living a life of giving, and as I slowly begin to think about long-term goals for myself I thought I could maybe draw insight from these profound journalists.
I read “Half the Sky” at a moment in my life when I felt very sure of what I was supposed to be doing. Although I did question how effective my work in Lesotho was, I rarely questioned why I had come. I knew that I was living out a greater purpose and contributing to something bigger than myself, even if that contribution was minuscule compared to Lesotho’s great challenges, such as malnutrition, HIV/AIDS and poor education structures. At least I was trying.
During the lecture, Nicholas and Sheryl told stories of how small contributions can make changes. They acknowledged that crises in Sudan and Syria can’t be solved by do-gooding individuals, but we all have the power to drop a bit in the bucket and maybe that little drop could start a ripple. Just merely believing in drops in the buckets is the very first step, Nicholas said.
While they spoke, I began to think about my friends doing incredible work in Chad, Uganda and Madagascar, or my friends who’ve started socially consciences businesses or are studying to take on some of the world’s greatest health issues. My day-to-day life seems so pathetic compared to these people, people who believe in the power an individual has to ignite change and are out there doing it to their best ability. I felt sorry for myself, guilty and ashamed, wondering why I wasn’t doing more.
On the way home, I sat next to a young woman with a stroller. Her infant daughter cooed while the woman spoke on the phone. We got off at the same stop and I was slightly annoyed because she was taking up much of the entry, and I had to walk to the other side of the plank to get around her.
I figured she would take the elevator, but when we both reached the stairs it occurred to me that this stop didn’t have an elevator. I asked her if she needed help getting the stroller down the three flights of stairs. She nodded yes.
Months ago, agonizing over what my purpose is in life the way a teenager girl does about whether or not the boy in her class likes her, I told a friend that I wanted to do something big with my life. He said that sometimes we don’t need to have great achievements or travel to the other side of the world to be good people; we can do that in the moment.
Sometimes we get so much pressure to do more and be more that anxious people like me don’t see what they are capable of in the moment. We can be extra nice to the customer service rep, thank a co-worker who did something helpful for you, give up your seat on the train, or open the door for someone. No, these small gestures are not going to end civil wars, eradicate poverty or feed hungry children, but they send out a cosmic message that people are good. There is hope.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you, where you are.” Just believe that drops in the buckets matter and slowly you’ll see yourself letting a few fall.