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How Will the World Be Different Because of Me?

Today’s post is taken from my podcast entitled How Will the World Be Different Because of Me?  On Thursday, I’ll post the second part of this conversation, entitled How Will I Be Different By Being in the World?

First, today, how can we change the world, and what can we start doing today to inspire change?

First, we must deal with the elephant in the room, because if we don’t, I’ll lose half of you before I even start.  I’m curious.  Do you become exhausted when someone raises this subject?  I do.  My heart immediately absorbs all wrongs in the world, and I think I have to solve every single one of them.  And I have enough of my own, thank you very much.  How can I possibly do more?

I’m going to set your mind at ease…at least a little.  You can’t change the world, in the sense that you can act on it and expect it to behave in a certain way.  It’s impossible.  You can, however, change yourself, and watch the ripple effect on the people around you.  As Leo Tolstoy once said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

So, we can talk about eating locally, donating money or possessions, volunteering, changing our spending habits, drinking less bottled water, recycling more, working in third-world countries, but the truth is, none of it matters if it’s done without love.  And peace.  In our hearts.

I’ll add one more thought to that.  It’s curious how we begin to believe that those problems out there are more important than the problems we’re running into every day—our friend who needs a meal since her husband is in the hospital, a family member who’s going through a rough time, a friend who’s struggling with post-partum depression, the homeless guy on the corner who asks you for cash, the grocery store cashier who just wants to talk.

Sure, we turn on our TVs and scroll through online newspapers, and the genocides and wars get our attention.  They’re brutal and horrible.  We can’t imagine living through such atrocities, and we feel compelled to help in some way.  And yes, some of us might feel the need to go, be there, work there, or at least donate, but I’m going to suggest that, perhaps, the best thing for you to do is to live your life exceptionally where you are.

Of course, most of us aren’t taking every opportunity in our lives to help others, and we can’t possibly, but what I’m getting at is that each of us is a microcosm of change.  If we act out of love, kindness, and honesty, we will change the world.  It can’t be helped.

We’ve all had this experience, where someone from the past approaches us and tells us how we affected them way back then—either for ill or for good.  We’re astonished, of course, because we either don’t remember the occasion, or we don’t remember doing or saying those exact things.  We do change the world—for better or for worse—so it might as well be for the better, don’t you agree?

I’ve told this story on my blog a couple of times, and I’ll do it again here.  When my husband and I were in Houston for a year, we went to hear Jane Goodall (The Chimp Lady) speak.  Her work with chimpanzees was remarkable, but what struck me most was what she said at the end.  She said, “Most of you sit there, saying, ‘But what can I do?  I’m only one person.’  So, here we sit, all of us, thinking the same thought, and nothing is getting done.  How about if we all thought something 180 degrees opposite of our first thought.  ‘I am one person.  I will do one thing.’  Imagine how many things would change in our world!”

I always refer back to that, because I’m more able to get a grip on doing one thing well, than feeling guilty about all the causes I can’t help.

And the more I feel it’s feasible, the more I’ll do it, if that makes sense.  So my cause could be different from yours, and that’s okay.  We’re both doing our one thing.  And the more we encourage others to take the time to work on themselves first, then the obvious effect will be that soon they will be living in a healthy place, where they’ll want to contribute in their way.

You may remember this story on my blog, but I’ll tell it again, because it changed my life and how I intersect with others.  When I was at UCLA, I was away from home, in a major that was over my head, and I felt like I was drowning.  Then, a box arrived in the mail.  A box full of saltwater taffy, with a note from a friend, saying, “Happy Halloween.  Love ya!”  I sat there and bawled.  Someone had thought of me.  I wasn’t alone.

Now, that may seem trivial to you, but it wasn’t to me.  Then, something else happened.  In 1997, when Princess Diana died, the networks had an endless array of commentaries and documentaries about her life, one of which had snippets of common laypeople she had touched in some way.  One was a hospital patient she had visited, and lo and behold, not long after her visit, the patient had received a hand-written note from her, expressing her pleasure and gratefulness for meeting said patient.  Princess Diana wasn’t required to do so, but she did, and it meant something to that person—that she’d taken the time and made the effort to write something.

Those two incidences have solidified into my practice today of sending love notes periodically to people I know.  Every time I’m up in Minneapolis, I go to a shop called Paper Source, and I load up on pretty letterpress cards.  I stash them at my desk, so I can draw from them when I need them.  I send care packages regularly.  I send music, homemade goodies, or simply my favorite—chocolate.  I’ve taken this on as one of my causes, you might say.

Because of those two events in my life.

There are numerous other examples I could use, because I do have other causes, but those will suffice for today.

May I suggest one of my favorite movies of all time?  I’ve watched it about six or seven times, and it’s been a cornerstone of the movies we watch when people visit.  I heard about it from Zach Braff of Scrub fame.  Look it up.  It’s called The Girl in the Café.  It will change your life.

With all the love in your heart, what one thing will you do today?  How will your love create ripples around you?  How will you change the world…right where you are?

[Post image: Indigenous People by jonathan_n on stock.xchng]

11 Comments


  1. Shawn
    Dec 13, 2011

    you are so awesome. that’s all. : )


    • Elissa
      Dec 13, 2011

      You’re too good to me, Shawn. What would I do without you to give me a boost? xo


  2. Shawn
    Dec 13, 2011

    Us quirky seekers must stick together. That’s all.


  3. Shawn
    Dec 13, 2011

    By the way, I cannot tell you how I wished every day that SOMEONE, ANYONE would bring me a cup of coffee while I was in that first year of motherhood. No one ever did. Your post really resonates with me … it is truly the simple things we can do for people. I’ve vowed to do this better for 2012 and have a list of short random acts of kindess that I plan to fit in all year long. I need to do it now that I can.


    • Elissa
      Dec 13, 2011

      Can I just say that’s what I wished for, too? It seemed I was forging through a jungle, and I had hoped someone had hacked down that brush before me, so I could benefit and not have to do all that hard work! Others HAVE done the hard work; it’s just a matter of finding them.

      Can I also say that it’s delightful to have you as my friend, one who wants to improve and learn along with me? I DID tell you I ate up the book you recommended, didn’t I? Buddhism for Mothers of Schoolchildren. LOVED it. xo


  4. Tonya
    Dec 13, 2011

    Oh I love this, Elissa! Thank you!


    • Elissa
      Dec 13, 2011

      You, too, are another one of those people I couldn’t do without! Thanks for reading, Tonya! xo


  5. Jamie
    Dec 13, 2011

    Elissa, I will take your post as a prompt to tell you how you changed my world. You came to my bookclub to discuss Eve, and told of your experiences. I was terrified when you were talking because I had never had the courage to face myself and ask myself what I believed. Your words gave me the courage to do that…and I have been growing. Thank you so much, I am free for the first time in my life. I am no longer scared of hell or not being “worthy” of God/Jesus’s love anymore (as I was taught to believe in childhood). I have no answers yet, but I feel so grateful and free…finally.


    • Elissa
      Dec 13, 2011

      Oh, Jamie, it’s comments like yours that make me tear up, because if you must know, THIS is why I write, THIS is why I question…so that you and I may start our journey of discovery together. We might end up in different places (or not…as you said we’re both free!), but it doesn’t matter, because we’re addressing the issues of the heart in a forthright and honest manner.

      I don’t have answers, either. I have “leanings” and “hunches,” but I would never foist them on anyone else. Isn’t it incredible how broad and wonderful your world becomes when you start looking around, discovering things you didn’t know surrounded you? Keep it up, girlfriend! xo

  6. […] On Thursday we talked about our impact on the world.  Today, we’re talking about the world’s impact on us.  How will we be different by being in the world?  Can we control what we absorb? […]

  7. […] that I realized that I needed to reach out to others as I wished them to reach out to me. I loved Elissa Elliott’s post on this concept. In fact, I have now made it my mission to do simple acts of grace for […]

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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