Make a difference, large or small

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Rebekah Smith

 

Take a second and stop what you’re doing.  Close your eyes and imagine a foreign country and the people who live there.  Whether the people you are thinking about are from Africa, South America, Europe, or Asia, what do you notice?

They’re different than us.  They have a different culture, language, religion and worldview.  They dress differently, they eat different food and they look different.  So often we spend so much time and energy thinking about how different people are that we don’t realize how deep down we are all the same.

I was fortunate enough to spend my summer working with the people of Swaziland, Africa.  When I boarded the plane in Atlanta, I just kept imagining how different these people would be.  I had the mindset that I was going to change their lives for the better, but in reality when my two-month journey ended, I was the one who returned changed.  I was going to a place where they didn’t have the comforts I was so accustomed to—indoor plumbing, paved roads and clean drinking water—so I imagined these people’s lives to be lacking in some way.

After the culture shock wore off, I realized that the Swazi people are no different   than me deep down.  They have plans, dreams and lots of love.  We are all products of various cultures and ideologies, but we are all truly the same.  We get caught up with the media and the distortion of what people of other nations are.

They are “othered” and looked down upon. I realized that I had preconceived notions before I even stepped foot onto the foreign soil.  I might have changed a few lives for the better along the way, and they all touched my life.

This doesn’t just happen when we think about people from the other side of the world; it happens when we think about people from the other side of the street.  With so much talk of racial discord in this country today, we need to look past the differences and know that we are really one and the same.  We all have different backgrounds, experiences and ethnicities, and it’s sometimes really challenging to look past that.  Sometimes we forget that we are all a part of the same race—the human race.

There’s a story that my dad and I often bring up to remind ourselves how easy it is to help someone in need.  It goes a little something like this: a man was walking down the beach when he saw a young boy reaching down, picking up a starfish and throwing it into the ocean.  The boy did this over and over again.  The man said to the boy, “There are hundreds of starfish washed up on this shore.  There’s no way you can make a difference.”  The boy picked up another starfish, tossed it in the ocean, and said, “I made a difference for that one.”

Sometimes the need in the world is so huge and daunting that we think there is no way we can do anything to help.  This story shows that even the smallest actions can make a difference for someone else.  We can’t change the world, but we can brighten up one small corner of it.

We all need something, whether that something is physical or emotional.  The starving child in Africa needs help, the sex slave in Thailand needs help, the homeless man on the street needs help and the person down the hall might need help too.  We all struggle with various feelings of inadequacy at times, and we’ve all screwed up a lot.  The beauty of those challenges is our ability to take what’s been hard and use it for the benefit of others.  It is our duty and our purpose to assist our fellow humans in any way possible.  What’s the point in having anything if it’s not to be shared?  Whether this help is something huge or a simple, “I’ve been there, I understand,” you can make a difference.

Sometimes we are all so caught up with the trials in our own worlds that we don’t realize how much a little kindness can change the course of someone else’s day or even life.  Take the time to look at the world from someone else’s point of view and go find your starfish.