Of all the sayings my mother repeated regularly when I was growing up, the one I remember most vividly is “You can’t save the world.” However, saving the world is exactly what I wanted to do. Whether it was an abandoned bird that had fallen from its nest, the ants scurrying in and out of an anthill on the driveway, the dandelions in the lawn, or a neighbor’s tree destined for the chain saw, I wanted them all to live.
I cried hysterically at the age of 5 when my father came home with a deer tied to the hood of his truck (dad never went deer hunting again). I despised littering and waste and felt sorry for the crumbs in the bottom of the cereal and cookie boxes. Why should they be wasted? Weren’t there hungry children in the world that I could save?
My mother’s mantra continued to swirl in my head throughout my teenage years and into my early twenties. While my husband (now ex) and I were building a home in New Jersey, there was a large puddle in the construction area that was teaming with frog eggs. Fearing the puddle would dry up or that a truck would run through it, I scooped up the eggs and dirty water and bought a plastic wading pool for them.
Within the next few weeks, I was blessed with dozens of tadpoles. I assembled rock and pebble bridges so the emerging frogs could climb out of the pool. Many years later, I still remember those tadpoles whenever I peer into a puddle.
Over a period of several decades I volunteered for various organizations which, in some fashion, were making a difference. Whether the cause was abandoned pets, the homeless, hospice patients, wildlife rehabilitation, or recycling, I threw my heart into it.
Then somewhere along the way, I began to question the effectiveness of my efforts. I helped spay and neuter a few dozen cats and then people would abandon dozens more the next day at the shelter. I gathered clothing and food for a homeless family and two more would appear at the door the next day. A stretch of highway that I helped clean up and recycle the trash would be littered again within days. Then I consider the accomplishments of various famous inspirational people and my meager contributions seemed completely insignificant. Why bother? Did anything I do really make a dent at saving the world?
Fortunately, a clear voice rose out of the muddled confusion in my mind. Even highly influential individuals—Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Bill Gates—started small. Most of us probably know at least one person who engages in an activity that is saving the world in some way, even though that person will likely never make the headlines or win any awards. But that doesn’t matter.
The first one we need to save is ourselves. We need to believe in ourselves and that our contribution, no matter how small we think it is, is important.
Saving the world involves engaging in positive activities. Your good deeds will influence and inspire someone else, who may then feel motivated to make a difference as well. In a way it’s like paying it forward.
For example, many times over the years I have felt like what I write means nothing. Yes, it pays the bills, but does any of it strike a chord or inspire people to make positive changes Thankfully there have been times when someone has said to me, “Your book really helped me with my illness” or “Thank goodness someone finally looked at both sides of the issue,” or “I never knew I had so many treatment choices.”
We teach by example. We save by example. We can lead by example. Someone I have been corresponding with for several years but whom I’ve never met emailed me one day and commented he noticed I was away from my home office quite a bit doing volunteer work. He said it had never occurred to him to volunteer, but he was inspired by my choice to do so. Now he helps at a soup kitchen and says it is one of the most fulfilling things he has ever done.
Each of us has the power to save the world. All we have to do is believe it and be willing to step outside the box we put up around our lives. Every time you pick up a discarded plastic bottle and recycle it, compost your veggie scraps instead of throwing them away, offer a helping hand to an elderly neighbor, volunteer at an animal shelter, mentor a needy child, report animal abuse, or choose to walk instead of drive, you are saving the world. The more people who believe they have this power and act on it, the better the world will be.