Making a difference


There is no greater reward than having a positive influence on someone else’s life, but whether it brings with it the satisfaction of purpose is entirely up to you. Mahatma Gandhi said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” Put more simply, no matter who we are, we can all make a difference. Impacting even one person, at a singular moment, can make all the difference in the world, at least to them.

If you’re like me though, at some time in your life you’ve asked yourself, “What possible importance could I be, how could I ever make a real difference?” Perhaps you’re under the impression that only doctors, politicians, or philanthropists do any real good in the world.

But, in my humble opinion, that’s all nonsense. Everyone’s contribution is significant. To Gandhi’s point, most positive influences often come from the smallest effort, person-to-person, and under very ordinary circumstances.

Going about your day, the simplest most innocuous action can have a profound impact on the lives of those around you and you’re probably unaware of it. Think of a simple smile, holding a door open for someone, or returning something dropped by the person in front of you in the cue at Starbucks. All of that can be greatly rewarding if we take a moment to accept our part in the positive.

But, if you’re trying to be more intentional about it, you might need to do some thinking and then make the effort. That might seem like a daunting task, but, as I like to say, “Even moving a mountain begins with a first step.” You’ll have to ask yourself how you want to make a difference. Or, better yet, maybe start by asking yourself why. Try not to fool yourself into believing that you’re all about altruism, that’s utter nonsense. Yes, we want to help others, but the idea that there’s nothing in it for us is just silly, not to mention completely false. Be honest with yourself.

Actions of true worth to the beneficiary generally offer little to no reward for the benefactor. To me, that is how it should be. And there are many ways you can make be a creative and positive influence.

One way we mere mortals can help is by volunteering with organizations that share our values. I’m regularly asked to sit on a board of directors or volunteer for a not-for-profit organization. I rarely say yes, mostly because I don’t often have the time. But when I do agree, I want to work and contribute. I don’t need my name on some plaque so I can show off my selflessness. I know people like that and it’s nauseating.

What if you can’t serve a charitable endeavor in some meaningful way? What do you have to offer then? Back to our original statement. You can do small things like mow the lawn of a sick neighbor or tutor a child in reading or math, anything can help.

I would like to offer two words of caution. First, get your own house in order. I mean if you’re struggling in some way, financially, emotionally, or whatever, see to your own needs first. You can’t help anyone else if you’re own world is falling apart.

Second, thanks to the advent of social media, you’re going to see people bragging about how much they do for the world. Don’t take the bait. Most of that junk comes from ridiculous people who are desperate for attention. They think that by doing something that appears nice on

the surface, then people will like them. If that’s why you want to help others, stay on the couch. As previously noted, most of the good deeds done in the world are invisible, unpublicized, and usually affect only a small number of people, sometimes as few as one.

Our goal should never be to get a pat on the back. Making a difference in the world does not require a PR firm, nor will it come with awards and accolades. And, be very careful to never measure yourself against the actions of others, whether they appear genuine or not. We all make a difference, each in our own way.

Gery Deer is a Greene County resident and columnist. He can be reached at

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