I, like so many of us, wake up each morning and end up being confronted by media outlets that are loaded with terrible news. Devastating events are happening all over the world. Uncountable numbers of people are dying in war zones, in natural and unnatural disasters, or by fleeing uncompromisingly awful living situations in a bid to find safety and succor. Sometimes they find a secure place – sometimes not. I feel sorrow for them even though I don’t know them. I get lost trying to figure out what I can do to ease some anguish. The phenomena causing strife are so many, so far away, so unknowable. They are inextricably intertwined. It’s daunting to ponder. 

I began to realize that I can’t meaningfully affect any of these remote catastrophes. I can make some modest donations to a few charities with a dream that this will help someone, somewhere. But I will never really know.

Over the past years, I have slowly come to understand that the main way I can make a contribution to people’s well-being is to narrow my sights to events that are happening in my own back yard (I don’t have an actual back yard, but the basic concept is clear): help to make a constructive change locally. 

Even in attempting to drill down to specific areas in my own community, there is an array of troubles and concerns. Right here, hate messages are scribbled on the walls and mirrors in our public schools’ bathrooms. An abundance of cars are pumping fuel emissions into the atmosphere. Lack of affordable and middle-income housing for every age is prohibiting newcomers from joining us.   

These issues bring me back to the same question. How to choose an arena on which I can have a positive influence – one that I can see and sense? I have picked a few things: reduce acrimony and hatred towards others; respect and care for the environment; and develop and sustain a community environment that is caring, accessible, and welcoming to varied individuals. 

To work towards these goals, I act in small-scale ways. I write columns like this one. I compose letters of support for projects that I think contribute constructively to my ideals. Particularly, I endorse elected officials who share some of my aspirations hoping that someone cares about my opinion; I tell my friends whom to vote for when they ask; and I host meet-the-candidate events. When my selected candidates win, I can credit my efforts as being an infinitesimal contribution to their success. If they lose, I try to strategized better for the next election. 

By using this approach, I have been able to address some of the impenetrable world-wide problems by shrinking them down to my own limited context. Laser-focusing allows me to know concretely what I am working on and, wishfully, whether or not there is a discernible impact. 

Being local allows me to nurture a hope that what I do can make a small, but potentially meaningful, difference.