Is wanting to do more good an inevtable consequence of being middle-aged and middle-class? Now that I’m in my late-40s, I find myself looking at the world in a very different way to when I was in my early to mid-20s.
On the one hand, I’m definitely turning into a grumpy old man. I’m always complaining about the state of our country and politics. Or about our celebrity-obsessed culture. Or about the stuff our kids watch on YouTube that they think is hilarious but I just find puerile.
On the other, I also think a lot more both about the legacy we’re leaving behind for future generations and helping those less fortunate than we are.
Giving versus taking
Before I go any further, let me set a couple of things straight. I’m not the devil incarnate. But equally I’m neither a saint nor a philantropist.
As a family, we’re financially comfortable but not wealthy. I care about a lot of different causes and issues but I’m in no way, shape or form an activist. In truth, I’m a bit lazy. I’m happy to make an effort; just not that much of an effort. Deep down, I’m sure I’m not alone.
But what I do want is to feel that I’ve put more back into the world than I’ve taken out of it. Be more of a giver than a taker. Live a life where I’m in net credit on the ‘doing good’ front.
Setting an example
I’ve got red in my ledger: I’d like to wipe it out.
Natasha Romanoff, Avengers Assemble
Yes, there’s a degree of virtue signalling about this. And it is also partly about making me feel better about myself. But it’s not just about me.
Doing the right thing – and, yes, being seen to do the right thing – is about being a good parent too. If I set a good example for our kids, they are more likely to develop similar behaviours and values.
It’s also about helping our kids understand that we should judge ourselves (and others) less by what we say and more by what we do. At a time when our politicians are setting a terrible example by making promises they never really intend to keep and then breaking them the moment it is expedient to do so, we could do with reminding our children that actions really do speak louder than words.
I’ve certainly found this to be the case with exercise. Ever since I started visibly exercising more, losing weight and eating more healthily, both our boys have taken more of an interest in staying fit. They regularly join me on walks and occasionally even runs. Isaac has even completed a Parkrun with me. (Okay, ahead of me.) They see me prioritising my health and fitness, and not only do they do the same but they encourage and support both me and themselves.
What can we do?
There are lots of other small ways – financial, time, expertise – in which I can make the world a slightly better place for others. Here are some of the things I do:
- I contribute a small amount directly from my salary every month to four different charities, each of which have a personal significance to me.
- When I go shopping, I buy one extra item to donate to a food bank.
- I blog, podcast and present at events to share my social media, parenting and experiences with others.
Different people contribute in different ways: school PTAs, running the London Marathon for charity, prizes, whatever. Giving up something without the expectation of receiving anything in return is remarkably rewarding.
It’s not about being selfless; it’s just about being less selfish. It’s about walking the walk.
I will be the first to admit I could do more than I currently do. Probably a lot more. But I do something. And that’s what matters. Even if no one recognises it, that’s okay because I know I’m doing it and that makes me happy.
Changing the world one step at a time
Sometimes the world is changed by extraordinary people who are willing to stand up and make a big difference. But we can’t all be a Mother Teresa or a Greta Thunberg. No one really expects that. But trotting out, “Well, I’m not that kind of person” can also provide us with a convenient excuse to do nothing at all.
The thing is, though, change often occurs when lots of ordinary people individually make a small difference that collectively adds up to a lot.
That’s something we can all get behind. I can be one of those ordinary people, making a contribution in my own small way, adding more black than red to my personal ledger. And if that encourages my kids to adopt a similar attitude, then I’d say that’s winning at parenting.
As Mahatma Gandhi once said:
If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him … We need not wait to see what others do.
Let me put it more simply. Don’t wait for someone else to set an example. We can all start changing the world by changing ourselves first.
Really, what’s stopping us? What’s stopping me? What’s stopping you?