Huh. I turned 30 today. Weird.
I feel a need to take inventory of all the good in my life, because really, there’s a bunch. Sure, I deal with struggles, both internal and external, but I’m here. Despite all the odds. Do you realize how inhospitable outer space is? That humans even had any chance of evolving into a species, on a giant rock (with a blazing hot core, mind you) that’s hurtling through the universe at incomprehensible speed? And how lucky am I to have what I have? Not so much in the material sense, though, yes, I’m also lucky to have a nice roof over my head. But let’s just acknowledge the basics here: clean water, nurturing/support from friends & family, access to food, and freedom. As much as we take these things for granted—and not that we negate them, but we just don’t think about them… because we don’t have to. Most people reading this, I’m guessing, have these fundamental things and don’t worry about where they’ll come from each day. But there are millions in the world that aren’t free. That don’t have clean water. That don’t know whether they’ll have three meals tomorrow, let alone one.
Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day.
Now I decided that I could: a) feel guilty about it, though that doesn’t really help anyone; b) feel nothing about it, and just sweep it under the rug; or c) I can do something about it. Karma, the Golden Rule, and the idea of “pay it forward” have really come to guide my decisions. The work of countless people before us has allowed for the developments of technology that lets us focus on bigger questions. How would someone ever be able to design a spaceship if they had to worry about whether or not they’d have access to food or water?
“I hear all this, you know, ‘Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.’ No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.” —Elizabeth Warren
My mom had a sign by her front door with the Gandhi quote: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” She pointed at it every day on her way to work and on several occasions told me how much it meant to her. It was a daily ritual, and I think she subconsciously learned that you don’t automatically wake up each morning ready to be a good person or a bad person or anything really… you can make a conscious decision every day to be whatever you want to be, and hopefully you try your best to leave everything a little better than when you found it. Compassion, care, and the realization that we all share the same home, and there’s only one of them that we know of, so we better start acting like it.
I’ve always wanted to know all of life’s answers, but it turns out I’ve been asking all kinds of wrong questions. I need only ask one: “How can I help make this world a better place for present and future generations?” And each time I ask, I find a new answer. “How else can I help?” Can you imagine how that could scale? What if we all asked that simple question… and then acted on it? It’s never been tried before, and I think it would be really exciting to see what could happen.
These first 30 years have been a great warm-up, but now it’s time to really start the show. Thanks mom and dad for getting horizontal in early 1984. And thanks to you all for reading what I write, and thanks to those who write what I read. And thank you to all of you that help make this world better for others, especially when nobody’s looking. And remember: don’t feed the trolls.
50 Ways to Help the Planet (simple, free things anyone can do)
Volunteer Match (find charity volunteer opportunities in your area)
Food Forward (my favorite local charity, a North Hollywood-based organization whose mission is to rescue and donate fresh local produce that would otherwise go to waste. Over 4.5 million pounds of food has been gleaned since 2009, and given to local food pantries, helping feed over 100,000 hungry Southern Californians each month.)