February 14th marked what would have been my mother’s 66th birthday.
I think of her often, but this year seems pretty momentous: in September, it will have been 15 years since she passed, and in a few more years I will have lived exactly half my life without her.
I miss her every day and it is an ache I can’t explain: a weevil burrowing deep in my bones, a shadow in my heart; It hurts that she is not here to meet her grandson (my nephew), or to enjoy retirement in the cottage on the lake she always wanted to have.
But along with that, I am profoundly grateful.
I am grateful that I got to know this amazing woman, who seemed put on this earth specifically to be a mother and that I am able to still have a relationship with her.
She taught and guided me so much during her time on earth, and while I have changed several times over from the daughter she knew, one of the things I remember most has been the importance of doing good for others, about how each individual can and must work towards making the world a better place.
These are a few of those things that I believe to be true.
1. Turn off the lights, turn off the water. Unplug your devices when not in use.
Admittedly, this is one I am still in the process of learning myself, but in a world where we are running out of resources almost as fast as we can identify them, unplugging our appliances at night saves an incredible amount of power (phantom power accounts for 10 percent of all household energy outputs). If you turn your shower off while you’re shaving, or letting your conditioner set, you can save a lot of water. Think about what that can add up to.
2. Adopt a rescue.
If you’re ready to get a pet, and have thought about all the variables, please consider adopting from a rescue agency. Don’t forget that rescue agencies often have different kinds of animals other than cats and dogs, (like rabbits, or hamsters, or lizards) which can be even more difficult to find homes for. If the time is right, consider directly saving a life.
3. Reconsider your consumption.
Like meat? Don’t want to give it up? Can you give it up for just a day? Just a day per week without meat has been shown to be of great benefit, in terms of animal lives saved, and the environmental toll it can take.
I used to be a cheeseburger freak, eating them sometimes as often as three times a week—they were my ideal comfort food. While I chose the organic, humanely-raised options; our society’s demand for meat just isn’t environmentally sound.
4. Share a meal.
Making a meal for, and breaking bread with someone, is an intimate way of getting to know people, and it fosters a deep-running sense of community. Can you invite a friend over for dinner? Host a monthly potluck?
5. Clean our space.
We are all a part of this world. My mother used to say that our bedrooms were a reflection of our mental space, and I am inclined to agree with her, several years away. Cleaning our spaces helps us feel that much lighter. See what you are able to do from that refreshed space. Honour yourself and your own surroundings just as you would someone else’s.
6. Get involved.
I know it’s hard if we’re working a full time job and have kids, or are struggling through the depths of winter, or have just dealt with a scarring break-up, but the world asks us to participate. Stay open to the cues and see what we might have to offer the world. If we think something needs to be changed, write a letter, start a petition, do more direct activism—whatever we can do can help.
7. Give alms.
This one is a bit loaded, I understand. Most of us can’t quite understand what it’s like to be living on the street, unsure of where our next meal or shelter is going to come from, and in urban centres the rate of homelessness is rising. It can be difficult and hard to resist a place of judgement when every third or fourth person we encounter in your walk to work asks us for change, but that is why we must resist judgement. I don’t want to deny anyone even the smallest bit of comfort. If you feel uncomfortable giving money, consider buying food, or in winter, donating or giving your extra or mismatched winter clothing away.
8. Travel wisely.
Having worked in the travel industry for the past few years, I know how popular (and cheap!) resort vacations can be—however, resorts can be extremely environmentally toxic. If you need to/want to get away and your only option is a resort, there are more environmentally friendly ones out there. Find ones which are transparent about their environmental practices, and support those. If you don’t “do” resort vacations, consider how your mode of travel impacts the environment and try to mitigate that. I know of someone who plants a tree whenever they take an airplane, but if we all try and do what we can to offset our carbon footprint, it can only be of benefit.
9. Check your community.
Does your social network include lots of different people? Elders? People of different ethnicities? People who identify as trans* or with different sexualities? My grandmother and extended family live across the country and I don’t get the chance to see them that often, so it occurred to me that I don’t have any “grandparents” in my regular life; my friends and the people I see on a regular basis are all of my age group. I state this not to “tokenize” any group at all, but simply to state that the more varied our communities are, the more we are able to understand and communicate with each other.
10. Plant a (bee-friendly) garden.
Some choices of bee-friendly plants that you barely need to pay attention to? Lavender, sage, some roses. Bees are in trouble and they could use any help you can give, in offering “pollination stops.” Even if you don’t want to help pollinate plants, your own garden can give you vegetables, herbs, and fruit to eat and is just a good alternative to buying from a supermarket. If you don’t have the space for a garden, yet this idea interests you, you could try community garden or plot sharing.
11. Give. Stuff. Away.
I go through phases of being somewhat of a pack rat. I think it has something to do with how I was taught to only take what I could use and to work off what I had until it absolutely fell apart, but in this day and age it is hard to stop accumulating. As much as I may want to keep everything that I’ve (accidentally) accumulated, other people may be in need of the items I’m holding onto. While we know that many organizations take clothing, others take things like gently used toiletries.
12. Turn the TV off.
I don’t necessarily mean forever, although I haven’t had an actual television in years and don’t miss it at all. Some TV is great. What I’m trying to get at is how much time we as a society spend in front of our shows to relax, to unwind, for entertainment. Think of what we might do if we were able to stay off the boob tube for an hour less a week.
13. Make art.
Is your passion writing? Painting? Math equations? Punk music? Whatever it is, do it. Do it, and finish it. You don’t have to put it out in the world if you are afraid to, but the act of finishing something will change the very energy in the room around you. We were all put on this earth to do something, and whatever we are passionate about—that’s what we’re here for.
14. Act locally.
We all know about the travesties and tragedies of the present day: every day, the amount of negative news we have the chance to digest can be completely overwhelming. While we can sign Avaaz petitions and go to screenings and donate money, sometimes it is worthwhile to remember that we can make and direct visible changes within our own communities. Don’t neglect the local just because the global is more attention-grabbing.
15. Put our money where our mouths are.
Places like Forever 21, Joe Fresh and Walmart are corporations who have proven time and time again that they don’t care about fair workers’ wages, working conditions, or ethical sourcing. There are options to all of them—buying second hand clothing, or going to locally owned businesses. People have a misconception that a few dollars here and there won’t make much of a difference, but it matters to the people who have put their entire lives into their businesses.
16. Do yoga. Breathe. Move.
Chances are, if we’re living in a Western/European society, we are sitting on our asses too much. We need to move our bodies—we all do—because that is what bodies were designed to do. We have joints, muscles, skin and bone, all of which crave and desire to be moved.
Breathe it all in, love it all out.
18. Remember the concept of ahimsa.
19. Reconnect with old friends.
20. Make one day in your week a completely offline one.
No devices, no phones, no Internet, no TV. Breathe into the emptiness that’s left over. This is what we run from, a lot of the time: the slight discomfort with being ourselves and all those questions we have about who we are and why we’re here. That discomfort is the stuff of growth. Lean into it.
21. Check our privilege.
Understand that there are advantages to being a certain ethnicity, gender, or economic class and learn about the inherent trickery of believing that achievement is solely merit-based. Learn from others; life is meant to be a conversation.
22. Be honest when it’s painful to be honest.
By that I don’t mean, “tell the truth so brutally that another person is wounded.” I mean: when it is scary to tell the truth, you need to tell it. Stand up for what you think is right.
23. Every day you wake up, be grateful.
It is a freaking miracle that we are all here—think about all the things that had to be in sync for us to become the crazy beautiful creatures that we all are. Life is by no means easy, and lots of things happen that we can’t foresee, but we are here to learn, and be bruised, and return to being real.
Every day we have on this earth is a chance to make it a better place.
24. Live by the rule of “seven generation sustainability”.
25. Study the seasons.
The natural world around us is very wise and has a lot to teach us, if only we listen.
I’d love to continue the conversation, as I’m sure the list I’ve been working on is not as complete as it could be. How do you make the world a better place? Who is your biggest inspiration?