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[think] Easy Ways to Change the World

9 February 2010 by Jenn Garvin 68 Comments

earthI’ve wanted to save the world since I was about five years old. I had just had my hopes of becoming a fairy princess ballerina crushed, and I felt pressured to pick a new career path as soon as possible. Aha! Champion of Goodwill and Defender of the Less Fortunate. That’ll do.

A part of me wants to say that it took about 15 years for me to understand what an undertaking that title would be – that there are international laws I need to learn, trade policies, and third-world languages. This part of me still rereads all of my texts from college, still reviews the protocols of the Geneva Convention, and likes to say things like “I knew a man from Burkina Faso who…”

But, if I’m very honest with myself, I know that I was just as capable of doing a world of good when I was in second grade and couldn’t spell genocide correctly. “J-E-N-N..”

You see, before they are given video game consoles, allowances and gymnastics classes, children are truly, genuinely good. They don’t want to cause pain because they don’t like it. Similarly, they don’t want to cause loneliness, loss, or sadness. Some of the most traumatic moments of my childhood were times when I thought I had made my mother sad, or my pappaw disappointed, or my sister angry. Humankind can learn from the instincts of children all of those things we are so eager to forget as adults. Be kind. Be sweet. Make people smile. Help. Play. And if we were, as adults, practicing these key principles of childhood, how much better would the world be?

So changing the world can be as simple as you like. You don’t have to study International Agricultural Politics to improve the state of things. A small improvement is still an improvement, and if everybody cared enough to try a little harder, the amount of combined positive change would be enough to quake the whole of human civilization.
If you, like so many, tend to forget how easy it is to do a good deed, I’ve compiled a list to remind you. These small positive changes are simple, take very little time, and might even have immediate benefits, like saving money or space. I’m absolutely convinced that if you make any little improvement, you’ve done your part to earn an honorary title of “Junior Champion of Goodwill.” If you make 10 improvements, well… I’ll let you wear the cape.

Ways you can save the world, today:

  • Buy a travel cup for your coffee. Can you even wrap your head around the amount of waste produced by a single coffee shop? Give every guest a cup, a sleeve, a lid, two napkins… multiply that by the millions of people buying coffee every day, and you have a tragedy. A landfill of avoidable waste. It’ll cost you $10, it’s true, but most establishments discount your drink when you bring your own cup. Starbucks and Seattle’s Best take $.10 off, and if you buy two drinks a week, you’ve earned your money back in a year.
  • Recycle something. I picked plastic milk jugs. I was a pest for the first few weeks, nagging friends and monitoring the recycle bins at work, but now everyone is on board. I’ve recycled over 300 in the past five months, and all I have to do is drop them off at my grocery store. It really isn’t difficult, and there are recycle centers all over Wichita that accept a variety of materials. Just choose one and run with it.
  • Learn a family recipe. My mammaw made biscuits every morning for decades. She’s something of a local celebrity in east Tennessee, and White Lily Flour should probably redesign their packaging to include her portrait after all of her devoted patronage. This past Christmas, I was given a DVD of mammaw making biscuits. There isn’t a recipe, you see, so you can’t learn unless you observe the magic itself. I watched it intently, and this week, I finally worked up the courage to try. The result was messy, ugly, crumbly, and kind of burned on the bottoms, but delicious. Not only am I eating well, but I’m preserving a bit of my family’s history, and the culinary history of post-war America. There are entire cultures whose histories are spoken or danced. We Americans could probably eat ours.
  • Buy flour sack rags. A pack of four costs the same as a package of paper towels, and they last years. (Do I need to do the estimated savings math for you?) Get rid of paper in the kitchen, and use washable, durable, recyclable rags instead. I haven’t bought paper towels in half a year, and I cook and clean almost every evening. When I’m brushing my teeth, I fill the kitchen sink with a little bleach water and sanitize the rags for five minutes. Then I rinse them, lay them out to dry, and forget about them. This change, more than any other I’ve made, has reduced my waste output the most dramatically. Because of the removal of paper towels from my kitchen arsenal, I’ve begun to use a trash can the size of a shoe box. You can find flour sack rags wherever kitchen supplies are sold.
  • Compost. I think I just felt a slight ripple of confusion emanating from readers. Give me a chance to defend this one before you give up on the idea. Your food and paper waste shouldn’t be going to the dumpster when it could go directly back into the ground. If you just throw it away, you take up unnecessary space in designated wastelands, and all kinds of non-renewable energy to get it from your residence to said lot. You don’t have to have a heap in your backyard or a smelly bin in your kitchen (I have a bucket on my balcony.) You don’t even have to be the one using it. I met a small-time farmer who trades me vegetables for my rubbish. Food. For garbage. Saving the world is awesome. Look online for lists of great ingredients you can compost, and start getting dirty.
  • Be good. This was my family’s personal proverb. When I’d leave home to catch the bus, “Be good.” When I had my first school dance, “Be good.” When I started going on dates, “Be good.” When I went away to college, “Be good.” You may think it’s vague, but this is how I translate it: “Don’t bully people smaller than you.” “ Don’t cause us to worry.” “Don’t get arrested.” “Don’t squander your opportunities.” And even though I live a thousand miles away from any surviving family, I can still hear it. So I’m passing it on. Write it in your planner, put it in your iPhone, make it your mantra when someone cuts you off, or snubs you, or overcooks your steak. “Be good.” Define what goodness is to you, and remember it. The whole world would shine from the collective sparks of goodness coming from us, I promise.

There are a million ways we can improve upon ourselves, and this article can’t even begin to scratch the surface of potential. All I can hope to do is remind you of the simplicity of self-betterment. The one thing I never aspired to be, while endeavoring to save the world, was alone.

You have absolutely nothing to lose, but consider what the world has to gain.

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  4. [read] Three Books That Will Change The Way You Eat
  5. [do] Use the Sedgwick County Extension Office
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    We started composting during the fall and, so far, it has made a huge difference in how much waste we generate. Between that and signing up for curbside recycling through Waste Connections means the actual amount of trash from our house that goes in a landfill is minimal – probably a quarter of what it used to be.

    For tips on composting (and making it so much easier than I actually thought it would be) – check out this post on one of my favorite blogs: http://www.younghouselove.com/2008/08/younghouselovedotcompost/

  • Michael Hahn said:

    Corollary to the “be good” – other people have tough jobs, too. Screaming at the person behind the airline counter won’t make the thunderstorm move away any faster. I try never to grouse at anyone who appears to be doing the best they can.

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