Inspiring positive difference is easy
I really want to make you think. You’ll be better off when you do. So will your friends and family and so will the place that you live. The cost? The few short minutes that it takes you to read what I’ve written. The benefit? There’re quite a lot – I’ll outline a few of many along the way. I’ll begin by describing the photo and I’ll end by asking a simple question that you’re able to answer in one word.
The Harbor Porpoise is one of the smallest marine mammals. They are generally solitary and inhabit some of the world’s coldest northern waters. I took this photo on a popular beach in Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city. The animal had reportedly lain there for several days before I discovered it. Its exact cause of death is unknown, however it had a deep hole above its eye socket on one side of its head – rather unlikely to have been sustained by natural causes – which seemed to be a plausible explanation. This unpleasant discovery added to a sense of frustration that had been festering for a while. It was the kind of frustration that you feel when you watch someone making an easy task appear overly difficult only because they haven’t paused to consider that they could do things slightly differently.
A few days earlier I had visited a well to do coastal town on a beautiful area of Denmark’s West Jutland. Incredible, vast sand dunes towered above the beach. The tops of the dunes boasted peculiarly angled and warped trees, shaped by the almost constant Arctic wind. The relentless whipping and pounding of the ferocious Atlantic Ocean had caused massive erosion that exposed fascinating patterns and textures in the sand. This apparent disintegration of the dunes was successfully halted by beautiful red-brown grass that sprawls the dunes and boasts an epic network of roots that reinforce and stabilize. The beach that lay thirty meters below was of almost impossibly fine white sand interspersed with occasional jagged rocky outcrops – beautiful, yet shocking. Shocking because it lay utterly strewn with rubbish – plastic bottles and containers, rope, fishing line, net, old personal effects and polystyrene – which in-turn was littered with the broken corpses of entangled sea birds. It was not ideal.
Such was the sight it prompted me to make an an-the-spot project. I predicted that if I walked for about a hundred meters and continually shot photos from the hip – camera pointed anywhere but skyward – that every single photo would fit the theme ‘Rubbish’. Rubbish in quality, rubbish in composition and literally rubbish in subject. I was right.
It affirmed my theory that a blanket of apathy covers a fair percentage of the earth – a walking, talking, responsibility-dodging blanket. I’ll explain. ‘Even if I start doing the right thing, everyone else continues doing the wrong thing. So, my efforts won’t make a difference, therefore I’ll keep doing what I’m doing – even though I know it’s wrong’. This attitude is slowly destroying our planet. Everyone is guilty – I still find it convenient to drive my car alone for several hours. I still prefer butter that has travelled thousands of kilometers from my home country of New Zealand instead of locally produced ‘inferior’ Danish butter. I imagine you have your own examples too. We continue to do these things, because we don’t question, and therefore we accept, the obvious logic.
The case of the rubbish reveals another dimension of the attitude: ‘I didn’t drop the rubbish, so why should I pick it up?’ Following that logic, next time your car window receives a smattering of white paint from a passing seagull, you should probably not turn on your windscreen wipers and waste valuable soapy water – the seagull ought to come and fix the mess it created. Right?
You believe that you cannot make a universal difference by making a single small gesture. I won’t argue. However you can easily offer a series of small gestures that over time make significant difference on a small scale. As more people begin to make small-scale difference, the results begin to compound. Think back to the beach. You could take two minutes of your day and pick up ten pieces of rubbish – I suggest that you begin with plastic bags, lines, nets and the plastic six-can holders because they are some of the most destructive. Tomorrow the beach would still look the same. However, take a bag with you each time you go for a walk and pick up ten pieces of rubbish – over time you will notice change. If you suggest that other people do the same, results will be profound within a short period of time.
Many people won’t see the value in this approach. Many people still have faith in financial contributions they make to organizations that, in-turn, deliver what’s left of the donation to places that need it. You’re different. Because you’re reading this, you already see that there are places on your doorstep that need a bit of help and you’re in a perfect position to provide it. Don’t think that your efforts are in vain – in your own backyard it doesn’t take most, or even many, people to make a difference. What do you get back? You get the knowledge that you’ve saved animals’ lives. You get to enjoy your local beach, garden, park or street – rubbish and corpse-free. You get smiles from strangers. You get respect from your friends. And you lead by example.
It’s easy to find other positives too. For example as I write this I’m sitting at my desk in the family summerhouse. It’s a three-hour trip from home. This time I didn’t drive though – I took the more environmentally friendly train. Whilst sitting comfortably recumbent, I finished reading a book called ‘Rework’ – it’s the shortest and most valuable small-business book I’ve ever read. That would not have been possible to do from behind the wheel. Anyway, I’m also about to eat sandwich made with Danish butter. Contrary to my belief, it tastes surprisingly excellent. And because I walked to the store to buy it, I saw my first wild fox. Not to mention that the exercise from the walk has incrementally lowered my chances of developing butter-related cardiac illness. Touch wood.
So. Now it’s your turn. Ask yourself. ‘Do I know of anywhere that I could change for the better?’ ‘Do I already contribute to the change for the better?’ … ‘Could I do anything else?
If the answer to the last question is ‘yeah, probably’, what are you waiting for? Lead by example. And don’t stop there. Now that you’ve realized that the seagull’s responsibility has become your own, and the solution to the messy problem is as simple as turning the windscreen wipers on – share the idea! It takes almost no effort and has all sorts of benefits. Here’s a fact; if you believe in something, it makes it easier to sell – even to a market of complete strangers and even if the product really doesn’t fit their needs well. In this case however, your market is your friends – who in-turn have other friends – and your product is not only extremely valuable but it’s extremely free!