Welcome to another installment of the Joyconjurer. This week, instead of taking a dive into Lake Mailbag, we're going to brave the treacherous waves of …
THE MAIL OCEAN.
A wild letter appears!
I subscribe to belief that the best way to make your local community a better place to live is to help the folks who need help the most. When you elevate the people at the bottom of the social ladder, the entire community gets a small boost up. The obvious question is, “How can I best help those folks?” But that tends to be an easy one to answer. The question that I’m most interested in is, “How do I identify the people in my local community who would benefit the most from a helping hand?”
First off, this is an incredibly noble impulse! I want to thank you for your desire to improve the lives of the people around you.
Sometimes the simplest place to start is also the most straightforward. The best way to know who in your community needs help is to participate within your community: say hello to your neighbors, go to local cultural/social events, talk to your representatives. Too often, we all wear the blinders of busyness, perhaps without realizing it. We become lost within the things we need to accomplish and miss much of the world and people surrounding us. As you start to recognize those times, you can choose instead to engage with the people you meet throughout the course of your day.
As you stop often to talk to others, as you build a habit of being present, receptive, and empathetic, you will naturally start to expose yourself to the issues people in your community face. From there, you will have to make a judgment call about the kind of intervention, if any, that is both appropriate and possible. This decision will be far easier to make if you've put in the work of engaging with the people around you and learning to understand their values and needs. It will also get easier with time. The more often you make a decision about where to devote your time and resources, the easier it will be to identify the next person in need.
Of course, it is also worth thinking about things that are going on systemically in your community. Perhaps there are failures in the local, state, or federal government that are having an adverse impact on people. You might consider what you can do to be part of solving those larger structural problems. Seek out those who are already doing the work and those who would like to contribute. If you can identify others who share your ideals and goals, you can support each other and benefit from the experience and expertise of each other.
Remember, working to benefit others will not always be flashy or "rewarding" in the traditional sense of the word. We are often attracted to helping people when we can see the direct impact of our philanthropy, but we should not neglect the less glamorous ways to contribute. Calling your representatives to advocate for better policy won't necessarily give you the same immediate feedback that you might receive from assisting an exhausted neighbor, but it can contribute to changes that lift lots of people. Sometimes, you don't have to identify specific individuals who need help in order to be helpful.
Thank you all for braving the ocean of helping others with me. Please, feel free to share your own perspectives, stories, and thoughts in the comments section. I look forward to reading them. I'm particularly interested in hearing your stories of helping people out. What kind of philanthropy do you engage in, and why? If you don't often engage in philanthropy, what holds you back? Is there a time you can recall where someone helped you in a way you weren't expecting?
If you have a question, a quandary, or something gnawing at your brain, you can reach me at [email protected]. Please note that all published letters might be edited for length and/or clarity.