As 2022 begins, there is no shortage of challenges, small and large, facing our world, our state and our community. One good thing about this is, there’s also no shortage of opportunities to make things better. Pretty much wherever we start, we can make a difference for good.

But I often feel overwhelmed in the face of all the need, pain, violence and suffering in the world. It’s easy to feel that I’m all alone, just one little faint-hearted person in a world where large, impersonal forces hold sway.

The thing is, that’s only true as long as I think that way. The minute I change my attitude to, say, “Well, I may be just one person, but I can still do something,” I enter a different reality. One where I can make a difference.

After that, the rest is just details: What issues elicit my empathy and/or passion? What skills do I want to offer and where can they best be employed? What organizations need volunteers when I am available?

The big challenge is getting from “I’m too small to do anything meaningful” to “Even my small contribution can make a difference for someone.” I remember seeing a quotation from Mother Theresa that speaks eloquently to this problem: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

It helps, of course, if we remember that what we’re doing is not about us. It’s not just to fill up our time, enhance our reputation or look good in our obituary. It’s not to fulfill a commandment in the Bible or other scripture, even if we are people of faith. It is about others, specifically, about forming a genuine connection with them at the intersection of their need and ours. Their need to be seen and ours to learn what they have to teach. Their need for food, education, shelter, safety, etc., and our need to give with no expectation of return.

The latter is a real human need, one that is almost never talked about and certainly isn’t celebrated in our culture. Ask a neuroscientist — they will tell you we are hardwired for altruism. (Real, respectable studies really have found this.) Not only do we need each other’s help, but we also need to help each other.

The kind of help I’m talking about is not something done to one person by another, but a relationship where giving and receiving go both ways. Our relations have become far too much based on the idea of quid pro quo. “What’s in it for me?” we ask. “Where’s the beef?” And all the time our spirits are hungry for non-transactional relationships, where we give what we have because someone else needs it. And because it does us good to give.

There are as many ways to serve others and exert a positive influence in the world as there are individuals, and all of them matter. As the world’s third year of COVID begins, I hope you will discover (or rediscover) the deep satisfaction of service. If you are already serving, my hat is off to you!

Republican Journal Editor Sarah E. Reynolds is a longtime employee of MaineStay Media.

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