Making a Difference

There’s a sign near the road on a rural property between where I live and where I work. It says simply: ‘It matters to me. God’ Doesn’t that say it all?

The following post is my latest column published this week in The Northland Age. I trust you derive inspiration from it. Please feel free to share. I was told by a man I’d nver met before today that someone at his place of work had cut out the column from the newspaper, laminated it and put it in their lunch room. I must say it is gratifying to know that what one writes does inspire others. Here it is:

In the nineteenth century, a tourist from the United States visited the famous Polish rabbi Hofetz Chaim. He was astonished to see that the rabbi’s house was only a single room filled with books. The only furniture was a table and a bench.

“Rabbi, where is your furniture?” asked the tourist.

“Where is yours?” asked Hofetz.

“Mine? But I’m passing through. I’m only a visitor here.”

And the rabbi answered, “So am I.”

The above story is adapted from The Song of the Bird by Anthony de Mello. I find it particularly apt at this time. In the Western world many crave greater and greater luxury. In China, India and other Eastern lands the masses are rapidly growing materially.

But I wonder if it would not be valuable to observe the example of Hofetz Chaim. Although we’ve all grown up with the expression ‘You can’t take it with you’ we still seem hell bent on accumulating more and more. We want the bigger house and the fancier vacation. Many still crave status and importance. Our consumer mantra would seem to be: If enough is enough then more is better.

But aren’t we just passing through? Is there any guarantee that having more things will bring us greater and more lasting happiness? We all know that’s not the case. So why the urge for more?

Perhaps we should lean towards making a difference in the lives of others, as so many volunteers are already doing. The feeling of satisfaction we get from a random act of kindness is, arguably, something we can take with us.

StarfishI’m reminded of the story of the man living on a long and isolated beach. The beach was subjected to extreme weather so no one else chose to live there.

One night there was a tremendous storm—the worst the man could remember. Sound familiar? The storm had washed up countless starfish and the man was amazed to see many were still alive. So he bent down and picked one up and heaved it into the sea. He did the same for the next, and the next.

When he stood up to stretch his back he saw a runner approaching. The man returned to his task.

The runner came up to him, stopped and said, “What are you thinking? The beach is absolutely littered with starfish—you cannot possibly save them all. What you are doing is not going to make a difference.”

The man lifted his head as he picked up another starfish and said, “It makes a difference to this one.”

There are so many ways we can each make a difference. There are so many who can benefit from our help. There are 7 billion people in the world today. Each of us need only do our little bit. It does make a difference.

Radio host, librarian, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.wordpress.com

“In Search of Simplicity is a unique and awe-inspiring way to re-visit and even answer some of the gnawing questions we all intrinsically have about the meaning of life and our true, individual purpose on the planet. I love this book.”

Barbara Cronin, Circles of Light. For the complete review visit: http://www.circlesoflight.com/blog/in-search-of-simplicity/

“In Search of Simplicity is one of those rare literary jewels with the ability to completely and simultaneously ingratiate itself into the mind, heart and soul of the reader.”

Heather Slocumb, Apex Reviews

“The author’s experiments and experiences working with nature simply amaze. . . . Beyond the Search is a treasure trove for those who enjoy planting and reaping as it seems nature intended, with respect for each animal and insect as belonging on the planet and therefore deserving of honour.”

Theresa Sjoquist on Suite 101

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Hushe School: One of the First CAI-Built Schools

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean.

But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.

Mother Teresa

I am currently reading two inspiring books, each providing palpable proof that one man, armed only with pure intention and strength of will, can make a difference in the world.

No Impact Man: Saving the Planet One Family at a Time by Colin Beavan is the first such book. Henry David Thoreau retreated from his ‘civilized’ world in the mid 1800s to undertake a life of voluntary simplicity in a hand-hewn cabin on the banks ofWalden Pond. Colin Beavan completed a similar project in modern dayNew York City, only he dragged his partner and young child into the experiment with him. Beavan’s premise: our modern lifestyles are unsustainable and are rapidly depleting the earth’s resources and fouling the environment. He could see that even the best-meaning politicians aren’t taking the steps necessary to halt this potentially cataclysmic global degradation, so why not begin with the individual, with the family? His prose is witty and honest, his choices thought-provoking. He endeavoured to live a year with a minimal carbon footprint and he succeeded. Along the way he learned many things and he has been courageous to share them with us. He has made a difference.

Greg Morenson too has made a difference and David Oliver Relin shares the story of this humble humanitarian in his beautifully written biography: Three Cups of Tea. Mortenson was a mountaineer who nearly died in 1993 after an unsuccessful attempt to scale the planet’s most formidable peak—K2—in northernPakistan. By happenstance, he lost his way on his exhausting retreat from the mountain and stumbled into a remote Balti village in that Shangri La-like corner of the world. The experience of living with these impoverished simple-living Shia Muslim villagers and being nursed back to a semblance of strength and health by them, and his discovery that the village had no school led him to begin his life’s work of providing schools for young Islamic boys and girls in villages where no schools existed before.

Mortenson grew up inTanzaniawatching his father build a 600 bed hospital and his mother a school for the people of that sweltering land. Mortenson’s exceptional linguistic skills were forged in the oven ofAfrica. His Swahili was so fluent that, on the phone, people mistook him for an African. He has used these linguistic levers to masterPakistan’s national tongue, Urdu, together with the Balti and Pashto cadences of the mountain dwellers he serves. Prior to his shift to his humanitarian calling, Mortenson had been a nurse, cultivating compassion for those injured and in pain. These qualities have helped him gain the respect and support of the Pakistani people. And his efforts have perhaps created more goodwill betweenAmericaand the Islamic world than the efforts of all well-intentioned diplomats combined.

The Central Asia Institute (CAI), with Greg Mortenson at its head, can construct a school for less than twenty thousand dollars. That’s half of what it would cost the government of Pakistanto build the same school, and one-fifth of what the World Bank would spend on the same project. Visit the www.threecupsoftea.com web site to find out more. You can also help promote education for girls through a tax deductible contribution to the nonprofit organization, Central Asia Institute, at P.O. Box 7209, Bozeman, MT 59771, phone 406-585-7841 or visit www.ikat.org. It costs CAI $1.00 per month for one child’s education inPakistan orAfghanistan, a penny to buy a pencil, and a teacher’s salary averages $1.00 per day.

Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and the recently released Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.com

“In Search of Simplicity is a unique and awe-inspiring way to re-visit and even answer some of the gnawing questions we all intrinsically have about the meaning of life and our true, individual purpose on the planet. I love this book.”

Barbara Cronin, Circles of Light. For the complete review visit: http://www.circlesoflight.com/blog/in-search-of-simplicity/

“In Search of Simplicity is one of those rare literary jewels with the ability to completely and simultaneously ingratiate itself into the mind, heart and soul of the reader.”

Heather Slocumb, Apex Reviews

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