Like many of my friends and acquaintances I have been shocked, saddened and frankly scared witless by the results of both the Brexit vote and the U.S Presidential election this year. I’ve joined in with the outrage on facebook and I’ve allowed myself to (mentally at least) castigate those who voted for the options that I believe are so clearly crazy. Like so many, I’ve felt powerless and clueless as to what to do to change the situation – especially after the horse has already bolted – and so have been tempted to turn to condemnation in an attempt to, I don’t know, somehow remove the wool from the eyes of my ideological enemies.
Then last night I watched this video by Russell Brand. And it feels like the wool has been lifted from my eyes. I urge you to watch it. In it, he talks about the reasons why so many of the UK and US populace have chosen to vote for change – no matter how risky that change may seem to many of us. The demographics of the pro-Brexit voters clearly show that those who voted leave were much more likely to be from low income households, with generally lower levels of education, and from areas of deprivation. As Brand points out, its very easy to remain liberal from our ivory towers of relative privilege.
As well as encouraging an alternative perspective on pro-Trump and pro-Brexit voters, perhaps the best bit of this video for me is that he actually has a solution to impart. Not an overnight one, granted. Not an easy one either. But the fruit of an idea which, if we could all coalesce around it, might make a difference to the future regardless of who is in power.
And it’s really quite simple. We need to fundamentally change the way we treat people. If we don’t want people to vote for right-wing politicians or knee-jerk trade strategies then we need to make it so that they don’t feel the need to. I take this to mean that we have to be kinder and more generous and less insular. That we need to champion the importance of community and helping one another. That we need to be less concerned with stockpiling personal wealth, and more prepared to give a little bit of it away to help those who are in need.
I woke up this morning thinking I wanted to do something to contribute in a small way to making this happen, so I decided to put together a list of little ways in which we can make the world a better place. Things we can do daily, from now, (if we don’t already). Little things that we can do to contribute to what is hopefully a larger groundswell of positive change in society:
- Donate a little money. It doesn’t have to be a lot – just pick your favourite charity for the disadvantaged and set up a direct debit. Make sure you’re chucking your change into the collection tins on the bar or at the till.
- Donate a little time. Volunteering is one of the ways you can make the biggest difference – just putting yourself out there for other people for no financial reward. That doesn’t mean its without its rewards though. Research shows that those who volunteer are less likely to suffer ill health in later life. So everyone is a winner.Volunteer to serve food at your nearest homelessness shelter. Volunteer to help children learn to read. Volunteer to be at the end of a telephone line for the Samaritans or a debt advice line. Volunteer to visit the elderly. Or just volunteer to help a youth group, or your kids’ school, or something that while it may not directly help the most disadvantaged still helps to contribute to a better society. You’ll also be giving your kids and your friends the message that doing stuff for others is where it’s at.
- Donate a little food. Lots of supermarkets have food collection baskets now. Don’t just walk past it – put something in! There’s also an amazing initiative called The Casserole Club where volunteers share extra portions of home-cooked food with people in their area who aren’t always able to cook for themselves. If it doesn’t run in your area, sign up anyway as they’ll expand as they get more volunteers.
- Talk to the person you’re slightly afraid of. I think we all have someone in that category, even if we don’t like to admit it. But 999 times out of 1000 you’re going to find that you have a lot more in common than you think.
- Do random acts of kindness. Pay for someone’s bus ticket when the driver is being an arse because they don’t have change. Leave a book on a bench for someone else to read. Pass your kids’ toys on to a friend. Buy someone a gift because they mentioned to you they liked or needed something.
- Give a smile. It costs nothing at all, and it can make someone’s day. Take it even further and have a chat with a stranger. It’s the human connections that stop us from living in our own little self-oriented bubbles.
- Be a compassionate listener. Sometimes people going through shit just need to talk. Even if you can’t do anything practical to help, just hearing someone vent and being sympathetic can make them feel like someone gives a damn and they’re worth something.
- Be old-school British. My husband, who is French, talks about holidays to the UK when he was young and being astonished by British politeness. Holding doors open. Waving to thank a driver at the zebra crossing. Merging in turn. Letting a car out of a busy junction. Standing aside to let people past on a crowded pavement. Thanking your bus driver. All of this happens less and less but they’re simple acts of thinking of others that make the world a happier place.
- Be grateful. Sure, lots of us get where we are through hard work. But where we were born and who to is just luck. If you were lucky enough to have been born into a financially comfortable situation with loving parents who provided you with a good education, be grateful for it, and recognise that it gave you the springboard you needed for your future success. Don’t judge those less well off than you and the choices they might make. Only chance and good fortune mean you haven’t had to walk in their shoes.
- See the inner child in everyone. It’s difficult to hate a child. They’re innocent and vulnerable. We recognise that they’re at the mercy of the world. The people they are to become depends so much on the environment that they are brought up in. How far they reach their potential is decided by the opportunities they are given and the treatment they receive. We naturally want all children to grow up to be happy and comfortable. But why does their happiness and comfort stop being of concern to us when they’re adults?Why does the fleeing refugee become a blight on our economy because they’re 30 years old, when we’d be crying over their plight if they were 3? Why do we flock to watch Jeremy Kyle, like Romans to the amphitheatre, to judge the poorest in society over their drug problems, their unplanned pregnancies and dysfunctional families? Weren’t they all children once? Didn’t they once have hopes and dreams that have been lost or shattered along the way?
There are plenty more things I could say, but this blog post is already getting too long. It all boils down to this, anyway: there but by the grace of God go I. Let’s remember that we are all people. That we were all once children. That we are all as deserving of happiness as everyone else. That we are worthy, but not more worthy than others. And that by making life better for others we can make our own immeasurably better also.