It was 1990, during my senior year of college. My friends and I were enjoying a beer when we got into a spirited debate about some social issue. It’s been nearly 20 years so the topic escapes me but one friend was particularly passionate about it. Eventually, one of us asked, “Well, what are you doing about it?”
After an awkward pause, my friend replied, “You know … that’s a good point.”
We’re living in the midst of one of the worst refugee crisis of the 21st century. Over 564,708 people are homeless in the USA. As many as 663 million people in the world don’t have access to clean water. There is no shortage of need among our communities, locally and globally.
When my friends and I were having this conversation over 20 years ago, we didn’t have the option to “like” a cause on social media. Based on this generational perspective, it resonates with me a lot more powerfully when I see a person show up to pack snacks for an after-school program to feed underserved hungry kids than when someone posts about world hunger on Facebook. It seems to answer the question, “Do I truly care enough to get my hands dirty or do I just like the feeling that I’ve somehow done my duty because I shared some post?” as one friend puts it.
There are instances where social media can contribute to societal change—through organizing boycotts and protests, crowdsourcing and helping people stay informed. It’s not one or the other. I would like us to consider whether there is something we should do in addition to pressing the “like” button. Jesus was interested in helping real people with real problems and given the technology and the amount of information we have at our fingertips today, there’s no shortage of opportunity to do just that.
When John the Baptist’s disciples wanted to know if Jesus was the one they had been expecting, he told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” (Matthew 11:4-5)
If we want to address social injustice, the obvious choice is to follow Jesus’ example. Let your faith meet action; bring hope to the lost, heal the broken, preach about the Healer. Part of the challenge is we don’t always know how to address the real problems facing our world. I’d like to suggest three ways we can begin to turn our good intentions into meaningful action.
First, we can get into the habit of giving.
If you live in the Western world, chances are that you can commit a percentage of your income to give away. Whether it’s to a community initiative, one of your favorite philanthropic organization, to a local congregation’s community service efforts or directly to help struggling friends, neighbors or family members, the effort to cultivate generosity is a good investment. Choosing a percentage is useful even if it seems small to you. You don’t know who may need the “mere” $10 you contribute to their gas or a meal.
Studies have shown that poorer people actually give a larger percentage of their income to charity than wealthier people. As incomes rise, the percentage one donates to charity seldom rises at the same rate as one’s income.
Over time, a person can end up giving a larger dollar amount, but a much smaller percentage overall. Percentage giving makes it more likely that our charitable contributions will increase in proportion to our income and that the financial blessings we receive will benefit others in our communities through our habits.
Ultimately, this habit speaks to your ability to steward well. “What you will do with a little, you will do with a lot,” a friend once told me. “If you find it difficult letting go of $10 now, you will find it equally, if not more difficult, to let go of more later.”
Second, we can volunteer our time and talent.
Start spending a few hours a week serving with an organization that helps others. If it’s hard to find the time to volunteer, start small—even a couple of times a year or over the summer or holidays. Volunteering has many benefits.
It may help to give us a better perspective on life. Our challenges are put into perspective when we are in direct relationship with others who are struggling through greater challenges. Those of us who are raising a family, or plan to, may find that volunteering helps our children see the value we place on serving others and learn from our example. Volunteering can also help us to keep our careers in perspective.
A scientist friend shared that whenever she feels discouraged that her research is only a small drop in the bucket to solving a problem, volunteering allows her to have a direct impact on people’s lives and reminds her why she is doing the research.
Similarly, giving your time to a cause or investing it in your community may bring you more purpose than you can imagine.
Third, we can dedicate our skills, careers and life’s work to the causes we believe in.
For example, you could take a job with a company that pays more but doesn’t really align with your values. Or you could choose to work for an organization that might pay less, but you really believe in where the organization stands on social issues, how it treats its employees or how it contributes to the community. Eyeglass manufacturer Warby Parker, for example, donates a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair they sell.
Career success is not measured merely by the amount we earn but on the impact our lives have on others. Regardless of one’s beliefs about “clicktivism,” we can always step back and ask whether there is something more that we can do. A lot of us have good intentions.
Applying those intentions into actions can begin to change the world.