Update: My good friend Chloe Jeffreys has challenged a bunch of us to choose our “One Word for 2015.” I only did this once—last year—because it is excruciatingly hard to sum up my vision in one word. I am, after all, a writer. But this year, the challenge fits better. Because I have vowed to express and show Compassion as much as I can. Yes, “compassion” is my word for 2015. Here is why:
You know I am not much for New Year’s resolutions. Everyone makes them. Most everyone breaks them. Besides, they are created in a way that sets you up for failure.
Make more money.
Spend more time with family.
These resolutions have one thing going for them. They are worded in the positive. They tell us what to do, not what not to do.
Yet, we still don ‘t grasp what they actually mean, what it would look like if we were successful.
It was a challenging year
In my reflections in the last two months, in time spent away from a blog that fits me like a pair of comfortable shoes, I thought a lot about the state of the world. It can be depressing if you look at wars, acts of terror, natural disasters, plane crashes, cop killings, racial unrest, the Ebola epidemic.
I wanted to do something, yet I felt powerless.
In my soul searching (and being a Highly Sensitive Person, my deep grieving), I finally came to a conclusion.
My power lies within myself, within my ability to affect the lives of people in my corner of the world.
In my town. In my neighborhood. On my block.
I decided that my plan for the new year would be to figure out what I could do to change things just a little right here where I can.
We can change our corner of the world with small steps
I began to see that if the power lies in me, that maybe I could do something small, perhaps one thing a week for the 52 weeks in 2015, and it just might start a ripple effect. And if I don’t get all 52 things done, well, I still will have made an impact an on someone else’s life and that just might extend outward, inspiring others to do the same thing.
My refrigerator list: 52 acts of compassion for 2015
Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Smile at a child in the grocery store checkout line. This is a habit I will continue because there is no greater joy than making a little person smile.
2. At the post office counter, leave a bag of goodies with a note attached on the counter for the next customer to “find.” For more ideas on random acts of kindness, visit my friend Kim Phillips’s Facebook page, Give with Abandon.
3. Choose a person or family in a restaurant where you are eating and anonymously pay their bill. Maybe it’s an older person dining alone, or two parents with a couple of small kids. I guarantee it will make their day.
4. Write a letter to the manager of a store where you got exceptional customer service. Employees usually only hear when there is a complaint. Just a few kind words go a long way.
5. Find someone on Facebook who is your polar opposite politically and find a point of agreement. I love doing this, especially when people are ready for a fight. Everyone can find at least one thing they can agree on.
6. Pick one day to post only positive messages on Facebook. Try it for one day. Promote other people’s content. Call out someone who you think deserves recognition. Post an inspirational quote. You never know who you will hit at exactly the right time.
7. Visit a museum exhibit or art gallery. This may seem like a strange one, but there is something about art that makes us think beyond our own little world and feel empathy for others.
8. Purchase 10 books and contribute them to an elementary school library. School budgets have never been so limited. Go to a bookstore (or Amazon) and choose some of your favorite children’s books and deliver them to your neighborhood school’s librarian. He or she will be ecstatic.
9. Become a mentor to a child. Find a program like Big Brothers/Sisters or Communities in Schools and sign up to mentor a child for one hour a week. So many kids need more good adult role models.
10. Vote. I don’t care who or what you vote for. Just vote. If more of us did, we would get the government we want.
11. Participate in a neighborhood cleanup. We have a spring all-island cleanup day every year. It’s especially good to get the kids involved so they learn how important caring for the environment is.
12. Shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk. If your winters are snowy, you can brighten someone’s day with this one small act. It doesn’t take much extra effort.
13. Send a hand- or typewritten letter to your parent. When my siblings and I were cleaning out our parents’ house after my dad died, I found every letter I had ever written him, going back 25 years, which told me how much he valued them.
14. Turn off the TV; read a book. We already know that reading opens our minds and makes us think in different ways. It also helps us understand all different kinds of people, because what fictional character wasn’t based at least in part on a real one?
15. Choose a block on a downtown street and feed coins into meters that are expiring. This is fun and will cause many smiles (with a nice mixture of perplexity).
16. Pick three people you follow on Twitter and tweet why. Be specific. Name what they do that is positive, generous and helpful.
17. Let someone in who is trying to merge into the street from a parking lot. This is the kind of good cheer that makes people want to pay it forward. And I love seeing the look of surprise and pure delight on their faces.
18. Give your seat on the bus or subway to an elderly person or a parent with a small child. A small gesture but much appreciated.
19. Collect unused toiletries from hotel stays and give them to a shelter or food bank. I learned this one from my friend Lori Richardson. The individual sized bottles of shampoo and soap are perfect for homeless shelters or food pantries.
20. Open the door for someone. My husband Bob is the king of this small act of kindness. It’s just a habit with him.
21. After someone has unloaded their groceries in their car, offer to take their cart back. Whether it’s rainy or a perfectly sunny day, it’s an unexpected gift.
22. When tearing off a bag for your vegetables at the market and someone is waiting, give them yours. It takes two seconds and it will make someone smile.
23. Complement a stranger whose child is well-behaved and polite. Parents have tough jobs and don’t get much praise. They’ll appreciate it so much.
24. Make someone who is frustrated laugh. For example, once when Bob was at the grocery store, a checker was having a bad day because the scanner wouldn’t work on the gazillion cat food cans in his cart. As the scanner kept making weird noises, he solemnly said, “Is that the Too-Much Cat-Food alert?” She broke out into a laugh.
25. Give your parking spot to someone else. This one always brings a smile and thank-you.
26. Bake a cake for a neighbor you don’t know well. Just for no reason.
27. Call a grandparent. It may be the only contact for them for the day.
28. Donate cat or dog food that will be given to senior citizens on fixed incomes who have pets. Animals are such great company for older people, but some of them have trouble paying for their food. Some stores have a bin especially for seniors who are having a rough time. Buy a few cans and throw them in.
29. Leave flowers at a hospital nurse’s station and ask nurses to give them to patients who get no visitors. Some patients have no family or no one close. Buy a bouquet or two and let the nurses distribute them.
30. If someone has been especially quiet on social media, send a message and ask if everything is okay. You may be the only one who does.
31. Leave a tip that is more generous than you normally leave. A totally unexpected surprise for a hard-working server at your favorite restaurant.
32. Donate blood. Blood supplies are hardly ever at optimal levels. Do what you can to help.
33. Leave a few coins in the tray after purchasing a snack from a vending machine. It’s a nice surprise for some hungry person to find.
34. Leave a tip for the garbage collector. It’s a thankless job and you may just make someone’s day.
35. Make eye contact with a handicapped person and give them a big smile. Many times we turn away because we don’t want them to think we are staring. But, in fact, that often makes them feel that you are uncomfortable with their disability.
36. Bring treats to your local fire or police station. We take them for granted, but they need to hear thank-you, too.
37. Put up a bird feeder. Okay, this isn’t exactly helping people, but what better way to teach your kids compassion and empathy?
38. Pay someone’s toll. If someone is on the way to work, that extra gesture will start their day off right.
39. Write a letter to someone who made a difference in your life. If you know a teacher, a relative or even a friend who has changed you for the better, mail a letter to them.
40. Try to understand other points of view. I truly believe that the world needs more people who can do this and it’s something we can do right here and now, with the people we know. And who knows? They might just change your views on something.
41. Pick up your neighbor’s emptied trash can and return it for them. It takes maybe three extra minutes.
42. Ask an immigrant family about their culture. They will be delighted to share and you’ll show that you value them.
43. Teach your children to put themselves in other people’s shoes. If your child comes home from school upset about something that happened to her, have a discussion, not only about how it made her feel, but why the other person did what they did and how they might be feeling.
44. Adopt a shelter pet. Saving an animal’s life is one of the best ways to feel better about yourself and know you can make a difference in this world.
45. Write an inspirational blog post. Talk about the people who matter to you, about mistakes you’ve made and what you learned from them.
46. Say “Good morning” or give a compliment to a stranger in an elevator. Once, in a hotel elevator, I commented on the beautiful necklace a woman was wearing. She beamed and said it was her keepsake as a five-year cancer survivor. I congratulated her. Who would have known?
47. Say “I love you” to someone you love. Yeah, they know it. Say it anyway.
48. Say “I’m sorry” when you are wrong—and don’t gloat when you are right. Help the other person save face, even when you know they are wrong and you are right. It will dawn on them later and they will appreciate that you didn’t make a big deal about it.
49. Help your child write a letter of appreciation to a teacher, police officer, or firefighter. I helped my 8-year-old mentee do that and the amazed firefighter hung it up in their station.
50. Mail cards to patients in nursing homes. It doesn’t matter who the patient is because it’s likely that most of them don’t get enough cards or visitors. Talk about anything: your life, your job, your family. They love getting mail!
51. Ask a local senior center if you can come in and teach a craft. Are you a master of water color art? Can you knit? Are you a quilter? Share your skills.
52. If you donate a coat to a clothing drive, write a small note and put it in the pocket for the recipient to find. It will be a double surprise. A warm coat and an encouraging word.
And one more as a “bonus”:
53. Encourage a parent who has a special needs child. They get enough glares and stares. Lend a smile. Give a true compliment. It means so much.
What about you?
Can you add to our list?