1. Help people because you are a great person
Not everyone who has a need has made bad choices. After spending time with people I have heard many stories about how people became poor. Sometimes life is just not that kind. There are so many reasons why some people find themselves in bad situations.
Trying to judge why someone is where they are before you stretch out a hand to help is a great way to keep giving yourself an excuse to never reach out to the hurting. In many places that I travel people are poor not because of drugs or lack of education but because they don’t have the basic human rights we have in the US. Sometimes they are born into a hard life and there are no opportunities to help them have the things that we take for granted. You are a great great person, and a generous giver. Even if you haven’t been that great of a person yet, just start today.
2. Do what you can, when you can, and don’t beat yourself up
Say you started volunteering at a nearby shelter in your community, and your job made you miss a couple days. Don’t worry. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t allow a small setback keep you from doing what you want to do. People miss a couple times and then get embarrassed and feel guilty. Don’t buy into that! Every little bit helps. Even if you just say a nice word to someone who is sitting on the corner, or offer up a prayer for someone or maybe even give someone a hug. Most of the time people just need someone to listen to their story.
3. Find something that pulls on your heart-strings and start there
It is easy to read an article, or have an encounter with someone, feel compassion, and want to help. Continuing to help after the initial feeling has left can be difficult. It is much easier to keep doing something that you love and don’t feel obligated to do. Be honest with yourself. If feeding the homeless on Saturday mornings is not what you like but playing basketball with kids in the projects gets you going - do that! Most of us have very demanding jobs and our time is best spent in a place that gives us (and the people we are hanging out with) a smile. People know when you’re doing something because you feel obligated. Do yourself a favor and find what makes you happy. There is a place for you, keep looking if you haven’t found it yet.
3. Money is not always the answer
People don’t need you to throw money at a problem. They need you. Sometimes it seems easier just to give but there is nothing like getting your hands dirty. It’s the principle of teaching people how to fish instead of just giving them fish to eat. Money does help but without the personal touch you make co-dependent people living from hand-out to hand-out. Then people don’t get better they just get funded. If money is your way of giving back then invest responsibly, find clever ways to make people independent. Loan a group of people money for a farm that they work to pay back the cash. Then re-invest that money to fund a new farm, which creates jobs, provides food, breeds responsibility, and changes culture! A little ingenuity goes a long way.
4. One person at a time
The American idea is to get a bunch of people together to try to maximize our output and our gain and investment and everything else. When you are talking about business you are right but this is different. Spending your time investing in one person can be the most important thing you ever do. We don’t need one person running themselves ragged trying to take care of everybody! We need everyone choosing to take time to invest in a few people. Being there for one person or a small group of people is the most effective way to see change. You could be investing your time in the person that cures cancer, or a future president, doctor, lawyer, civil rights champion, or a great mom or dad.
5. If no one is helping the people you want help then you do it.
A wise man once said that if you see a problem without an answer you may be the one called to provide the solution. You may like riding unicycles and want to teach kids how to ride or maybe you’re a health enthusiast and want to tackle the lack of healthy food in school cafeterias but no one is doing it. Don’t complain - fix it. Don’t sit back idle and get mad every time you see the problem that you were born to fix, FIX IT!
6. Travel and see the world (the real world!)
The world is a big place. There is so much going on! When I set my foot in a trash dump in Eastern Europe and a refugee camp in Palestine, my life changed. I found out how important every single life is. A larger worldview will answer some questions and raise some new ones, but you will be forever changed. It’s worth it. You are worth it
7. Take small steps
Most people will read this, get jazzed up and go out and bite off more then they can chew. I really appreciate your enthusiasm but we need people to make this a lifestyle not a hobby. Helping people isn’t like building the model cars that you gave up 8 years ago. You can’t hide hurting, desperate people like parts and paints sitting in the closet under the other hobbies you lost interest in. Look at your schedule and be honest with what you can do. Start small and increase. Don’t start big and bail out because you’re overwhelmed. Start small, start somewhere.
8. Make Friends
More than anything what will last in your experience are the relationships that you make. Don’t come in as the lone ranger with all the answers to world hunger. Make friends with people. Be open. Be vulnerable. Tell people about yourself. Don’t worry about your life being better or worse than someone else’s. Celebrate diversity. Celebrate people. Take time to get to know people - it will make a huge impact on you and them.
9. Tell your stories
Lets say you have been going and helping in that after school program with the kids from the underprivileged community. Now tell your story to friends, family, colleagues. Tell them how it’s going: even if it’s not going well. Maybe you’re struggling to find common ground with people who do not share your upbringing. That’s ok. Share your stories anyway. The victory is that you are getting out and doing something to change our world. It is ok to let people know you don’t know what you’re doing. It will give people the courage they need to do the same. You will inspire people. Very quickly you’ll become known as the person that helps people. You’ll become a resource for others who also want to help people.
10. It takes time
So you have this plan to save the world in a week. Awesome! Just so you know, most of the time it takes longer then a week. You may have met Jimmy the homeless guy on Monday. By Friday the world will probably still have homeless people and Jimmy may still be homeless, even though you have done all you know to do. That’s ok. These things take time. People way nicer then all of us put together have given their whole lives to social issues. Mother Theresa lived with the poor for years and when she died there were still poor people. Don’t lose the Captain America spirit and tenacity. Don’t give up. Keep loving - regardless of what you see. Sometimes it may seem like things aren’t changing but you are making a difference - even if it is to just one. Let that one be one in a million. You can be someone’s answer to prayer.