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10 Things That Even You Can Do to Change the World

10 Things That Even You Can Do to Change the World

Each and every day, we’re inundated with stories about how the world is going to hell. War, poverty, pollution… all manner of atrocities are flung at us from all directions, and it’s enough to draw even the most lighthearted person into a pit of despair.

Fortunately, a great way to counteract all that ugly is to be the change we want to see. None of us can change the entire world all by ourselves, but by making small amendments in our own lives and encouraging others to do the same, a snowball effect occurs that can affect the entire planet in time. Here are a few simple ways that you (yes, even you) can help bring about positive change in the world:

Share Positivity

For every bit of horrible dreck floating about on the Internet or in the news, there’s an amazing, beautiful story to counteract it. Stop wallowing in the fear-mongering ugliness that the general media tries to fling at you, and instead, let yourself be inspired by the wonder, beauty, and compassion in the world.

Websites like The Daily Good, Positive News, and even Huffington Post’s “Good News” section are all filled with uplifting stories that can serve to remind you that there’s a hell of a lot of good in the world. Once your heart is glowing, tweet, and pin those stories so others can be inspired as well.

Plant a Garden

You’d be surprised what a little patch of green space can do for the environment, and if you have a bit of land that you can turn into a garden, you’ll make more of an impact in your corner of the planet than you realise. Planting and harvesting your own food means that less has to be carted in from other countries, which decreases the amount of fuel that’ll be shot off into the atmosphere. If instead of food you’d like a flower and herb garden, plant flowers that attract and feed pollinators like bees, butterflies, and birds: they’re disappearing at an alarming rate because of pesticide and insecticide use, so an organic garden full of delicious blossom and seeding plants (like sunflowers, amaranth, and millet) will help exponentially.

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If you don’t have your own land but have a thoroughly green thumb, consider getting involved in a community garden project: you’ll help others to develop their gardening skills, help to empower them by showing them how to be self-sufficient with their food security, and that garden will become a supportive ecosystem to all kinds of insects and small animals.

Meditate

You don’t have to follow any particular religion or philosophy to meditate, and nor does meditation have to involve sitting cross-legged on the floor while chanting in a language you don’t understand. Ultimately, meditation is just a mindfulness practice that involves calming your thoughts and emotions so you can be in the present moment. This helps to calm frayed nerves to alleviate stress and anxiety, and creates a sense of peace and tranquility of spirit. That inner peace reflects upon all other facets of life: you may have more patience with others, or have greater self esteem, or even just be able to appreciate the little bits of beauty you come across instead of being swamped by all the negativity in the world.

Speak Up, and Take Action

If there are issues that concern you, use your voice to bring attention to them. Sign petitions, write letters to your member of parliament, make an appointment to sit down with someone who has the power to change things, and discuss your worries with them. If someone you know treats another badly, then call them out on their bad behaviour: saying nothing is basically just condoning said poor behaviour, and will make the one getting hurt feel that no-one is there to support or defend them.

Should you find out that the company that makes your favourite chocolate bar/deodorant/drink has questionable practices, then find a more ethical product that you enjoy just as much, and write to the company you’re now boycotting to let them know why you’ll no longer support them. Your voice can make a profound impact, so let it be heard.

Clean Up

You’re probably quite vigilant with regard to disposing of garbage properly, but others may not be quite so conscientious. If you see a piece of rubbish lying about that some jerk has tossed out their car window or just dropped on the ground, throw it out. Keep a pair of rubber or latex gloves in your bag if you don’t want to touch anything that’s potentially “icky”, but keep in mind that every little bit of effort helps when it comes to cleaning up our living spaces.

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If you live in Canada and love all things aquatic, consider getting involved in the David Suzuki Foundation’s Great Shoreline Cleanup: join forces with others to clean up rivers, lake shores, ponds, creeks, and even beaches along the ocean. There are similar initiatives in other countries, so just do a quick search for environmental clean-up groups in your area, and get involved!

On that very topic…

Stop Polluting the Water

Have you ever been thirsty? I mean, truly parched? So thirsty that your throat started to close up and your lips were cracking and you thought you were going to die? Consider the fact that our bodies are comprised of nearly 70% water, and nearly all animals and plants require water to survive. Then think about the fact that only 2% of all water on earth is drinkable, and a significant amount of that is now polluted because of all the crap we keep dumping into it. Every drop of chemical cleaner, every drop of hair dye, every bit of pesticide, paint, non-biodegradable laundry detergent, toilet bowl cleaner, etc. gets into the water system, and although the drinking water in cities is filtered a great deal, most of those toxins still leak into the soil and underground water table, killing life around the planet. People and animals all over the world often have to choose between dying of thirst, and poisoning themselves with tainted water supplies.

Be very conscious about what it is you pour down your drains or use on your lawns, and try to be as eco-friendly as possible. If you dye your hair, try plant-based dyes or henna instead. Instead of harsh household cleaners, all you really need are vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils. To help take action for clean drinking water, look into groups like Waterkeeper Alliance, which has chapters all over the world that you can get involved with.

Reconsider Your Eating Habits

Write a list of the items you normally buy at the grocery store, and consider doing a bit of research on where these items come from. Does your favourite brand use mostly GMO ingredients? If you eat meat, is it from local sources where the animals are treated ethically? Are your eggs free-range, or do they come from a place where the birds are crammed into small cages? Is the sugar you buy harvested by children? Are your organic vegetables picked by people who earn a living wage?

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Delve into the sources of your food and determine whether you’re contributing to the well-being of others, or if your habits could be a little more compassionate and conscientious.

Find Out More About What You Buy/Wear/Use

Just like food, clothing has to come from somewhere, but few people take the time to really research the origins of their clothes. Does the company that makes your shirt source pesticide-laden cotton from a developing country? Have your jeans been sewn by children’s hands in Thailand or India? Were any animals harmed to source real fur trim for your jacket or boots? Was any water polluted to create the PVC in your bag or shoes? Educate yourself so that you can educate others, and speak out against mistreatment when you come across it.

Volunteer

There are many different ways to donate your time to others, so don’t feel that you have to put yourself in a position you’re uncomfortable with in order to make a difference. Some people might be happy working in soup kitchens or helping street youth, while others may not, and that’s totally okay! There are volunteer opportunities for people of every age, profession, and physical ability.

If you like the outdoors, consider doing some volunteer work to help clean up parks. Are you an animal lover? Offer to walk dogs at an animal shelter a few times a month, or maybe help to campaign for the World Wildlife Fund, SPCA, etc. Are you a super-busy professional? Consider donating an hour or so a month to help mentor young people who wish to follow in your footsteps. Are you crafty? You can use up spare yarn by knitting or crocheting warm hats, scarves, and mittens for those in need, like women and children in shelters, or even overseas orphans and refugees. Trust that there’s charity work that’s perfectly suited for you out there, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to make a dramatic difference in another’s life.

Be Kinder

We all get frustrated and upset on occasion, but the energy that we put out into the universe tends to have a domino effect: the person you yelled at in traffic might take their frustrations out on a barista, who’ll then go home and yell at her kids because she’s had a bad day, and the kids will fight with one another because they don’t know how to handle the negativity that’s been forced upon them. On and on it goes, with the web of hostility growing larger and larger as it sweeps through the population.

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If you find yourself irritated or frustrated by a situation, take a step back and really consider what’s going on. Is this an opportunity for you to be more patient? What can you learn from this situation? If you change your tone and be more compassionate with the others involved, can you achieve a more positive outcome?

In addition to reacting positively to upsetting circumstances, we can also take the initiative to pour some good into the world. Practicing random acts of kindness also creates a domino effect, as others appreciate what was done for them and then decide to do good in turn. Paying for someone else’s coffee in a drive-through will instantly brighten their day, and there’s more than a 90% chance that they’ll pay for the person behind them in turn, and so on. This video illustrates that concept rather perfectly, actually.

The actions mentioned above don’t take a great deal of effort to do, but if each and every person on the planet implemented just a few of them, we could see real change happenfor the betterment of all on this gorgeous planet.

More by this author

Catherine Winter

Catherine is a wordsmith covering lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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