Making a difference

In her final article of a series on wellbeing and resilience Liggy Webb shows how we all make a difference

A few years ago I was doing some work in Ethiopia. On my way to work each morning in the capital of Addis Ababa I passed a crippled man sitting in the street who each day would smile and say “hello” to me. I stopped one morning to see what he was making and noticed that he had a small box containing a few cheap plastic pens. They looked rather old and worn. He was, however, transforming them by very slowly, and cleverly, weaving the colours of the Ethiopian flag, yellow, green and red, in fine silk thread. I complimented him on his workmanship with enthusiastic gestures and noticed the distinct pride in his eyes.

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Each day I noticed that a few more pens piled up in his box and I asked him how long it took to do each one. With lots of gestures I managed to learn that he did about six in a day. As I looked at his gnarled and crippled hands I realised that each one took a great deal of effort.

On my last day there I decided to buy some of the pens for my friends and family. As I walked towards him he smiled and handed me a pen and as I dipped into my pocket to pay, he shook his head and insisted I took the pen. It was a gift. This gesture touched me to the core. The fact that he could give so generously, when he had so little, was amazing.

I then insisted on buying all the pens he had, because I was able to. At this point, I realised he had given me that pen because he was able to. We are all capable of giving in our own unique way and it doesn’t matter how much and how.

There is a well-known quote, sometimes attributed to James Joyce, used by modern philanthropist and movie actor Angelina Jolie: “Save a third, spend a third and give a third away”. I attempt to live by this philosophy.

I really believe that we all need to do our bit, to make a positive difference. It is not all about money. Money is very helpful, of course, and all charities need it however giving time and moral support is hugely important too.    

It strikes me, especially on my travels to deprived countries working as a consultant for the UN, that in the western world we can so easily fall into the trap of accumulating a lot of stuff! It’s as if we are actively encouraged by the consumer bandwagon to focus on our own issues rather than thinking about what we can do for others.

As Mother Theresa so eloquently put it “We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love”

So here are a few very easy ways that you can make a difference:

Lead the way
When we endeavour to do things to make a difference, we should also seek to influence others to start doing things that make a difference too. The best way to convince other people is to lead by example. Start doing whatever is within your ability today. Start showing more consideration for the people you live with, work with and come into contact with each day. Every effort counts, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem. Just do something, and do something good.

Respect and value others
How often do you see people on their mobile phones giving no eye contact, let alone engaging with, someone with whom they are transacting? Giving people your full attention is not only kind, it shows respect and good manners. Next time you engage with someone, look them in the eye, smile and say “thank you”. It’s the little things that count. 

Listen to other people
I have come to the conclusion that most people just want a good listening to! In a world full of distractions, it is can sometimes be challenging to give people your full attention. Listening to other people without passing judgement is one of the kindest things you can do. Some people may want to share a problem and maybe they know the answers to the problems they are facing, they just haven’t realised it yet. By letting them talk it through you can help them.

People also want to share positive experiences. Being able to enthuse and tell someone all about a new relationship or a holiday or a successful work achievement can make the experience all the more exciting. Listen and live it with them because it will make them happy.

Support charity
There are so many different ways that you can do your bit. Whatever motivates and inspires you. Part of your selection in which charity you want to support will more than likely will be instigated by an experience in your life about something you feel passionate about. So think about getting involved in any way you can. They will also appreciate your help and support.

The starfish story
I am sure many of you will have heard this story in one form or another however I think it sums up beautifully the difference we can all make.

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a small boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”

The little boy replied, “I am saving all the starfish that have been stranded on the beach. The surf is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them back, they will die”.

The man looked around and noticed that there were miles and miles of beach and literally thousands of starfish.

He looked at the beach again and then at the boy and said, “Well, you won’t make much of a difference, will you?”

After listening politely, the little boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the sea. Then, looking up, he smiled and said to the man, “I made a difference for that one.



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