Go forth. Act decent. Call your mother from time to time.

Author Simcha Fisher gets all the credit for my headline. It’s what was on the card I gave my recently minted high school grad last month. And it’s a mantra I wish I could brand into my fellow citizens here on planet earth.

My most cynical friends and I have been having a debate since the world got less civilized. Since it’s been ok for a standing president to insult women’s looks and intelligence. Since the Kardashians became people more interesting to the American public than authors, artists and educators with big ideas. Since we separate small children from the only people in the world who will love and protect them like no other. Wasn’t it Eminem that said: “Somewhere deep down there’s a decent human being in me, it just can’t be found?”

Let’s just say this debate amongst my friends has raged for a while.

They talk about how helpless they feel to impact a world that seems to have gone mad. One in which not enough people read books, adopt puppies, know the name of their elderly neighbor (let alone visit her once in a blue moon).

And I agree. Helplessness is not my forte and I’ve had my fill of it over the past few months.

But, here is where we diverge, my friends and me. I believe in the art of micro-change.

I am not sure if I believe this because it has any backing in social science. But I am sure I believe it because I see it work in my own life—and because it is one of the few avenues of action open to a common citizen like me.

Put more simply, I can only truly impact within my sphere of influence. Which is limited to my immediate family (albeit large), a dozen or so neighbors, the friends who will put up with me and the 10,000 or so of you who proclaim to follow (and hopefully read) my blog. Don’t get me wrong. I am not poking my head in the sand and saying I can’t participate in larger change. I’m simply saying that my realm of impact, many days, is far smaller. And focusing on that can lead to larger change.

My parents were really decent people. No other word fits as well. They were just good, decent Midwesterners. They were honest if a store clerk gave them too much change, returning the extra. They lived within their means. When they walked the dog, they “scooped the poop”—as my father used to say–whether anyone was watching or not. They used the same manners for everyone, and we were expected to do the same.

I credit this decency with a lot of good in my life. I am not star struck. I speak to captains of industry, television stars and supermodels in my interviews the same way I speak to the woman who cleans my house. My life—despite the ways in which the world tries to complicate it—is relatively simple. I keep debt low. I pay my taxes. I have a b.s. detector better than most. I love good books, good wine, a tub overflowing with bubbles.

So how does all this help me with micro-change? I guess it gives me hope. My basic decency gives me hope, because I believe the same decency resides in so many of us. For some, it seems to have gone dormant and requires a reawakening. Many people are letting the world harden them. I believe practicing decency with those around us is an antidote to that.

I see the ripple effect of being kind to the woman who serves me my coffee, of striking up a conversation with my accountant that goes beyond numbers on a page to the health of his wife and kids. I believe if we each changed one small thing every day, the world would change. What if we didn’t scream back at the road rager? What if we let our fellow customer with just one item to buy ahead of us in the grocery line? What if we wrote the thank-you note to the teacher who helped our child pass a really tough math class? What if we planted the community garden we’ve been talking about for years, so our neighbors could actually meet and interact somewhere?

Cynics will laugh at these suggestions, saying they don’t help combat unrest in the Middle East or prejudice. And they wouldn’t be wrong. Micro-change doesn’t really impact much—until it does. Until it becomes a wave that grows. Until enough of us feel well-disposed enough toward our fellow man that we listen more and dis less. In doing things differently, we can begin to  think about things differently. Cart before the horse? Maybe. But I’ve seen it work.

I know one thing for sure. Even if no one else agreed with me, I’d continue to get up each day and live the way I was taught. I’d try my best to be decent and regret the times I’m not. Even if I don’t change the world, I may be raising two sons who can. And even when they don’t follow my example, I know I’m showing them a constant core. A value that doesn’t change, even as the world shifts. I’m hoping that sinks in—impacts them—at some point in their journey to adulthood. I hope they look back and say I made being decent really simple, even though it’s hard sometimes. And I hope they learn to follow my lead until they’re leading themselves.

It’s about all I can do. At least right now. But it spells the difference between change—however small—and helplessness. I wasn’t raised to believe in the latter.

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43 Comments Add yours

  1. nimslake says:

    Love this post! Helplessness, decency, crazy politics and change.
    All my thoughts and raging against the machine, I see you have covered. It encompasses my fustration and my hope for the future.
    It is all you can do is to address the small environment we have influence in and I commend you doing “it”.

    Again you give me fuel to keep up what I do in my small bubble.
    Thank you.

    1. candidkay says:

      Keep going in that bubble! We all need to right now!

  2. Small actions are definitely the way to big change. That’s how we do it- 1 tiny step after the other. I see the interchangeability of how you describe decency with kindness. If only we – all of us – could add a little more kindness into our day.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, I love that. I see kindness and decency is a dynamic duo. The difference, in my mind, is that decency means doing the right thing even when kindness toward another is not an option. Taking care of your house and yard, etc.

  3. I so resonate with your beautiful words… Its all each can be… allowing ourself to connect with our pure loving essence and be a small example to everyone who is ready for a new decent experience. Life that has been built on anything but love will continue to scream… and we can best relax, breathe and anchor ourself on Mother Earth and enjoy our magnificent existence. Love Barbara x

    1. candidkay says:

      Beautifully put, Barbara:). I’m so glad this one resonated with you. Thanks for the virtual visit 🙏🏻

  4. I often hear and read about how helpless people feel to change things, and I often feel that myself, but you’re absolutely right, we can’t all make world-changing changes in one swoop, but we can make a difference to a lot of people day to day.

    1. candidkay says:

      Coincidentally (or not), there is a common thread on my most recent blog that touches on this. A woman mentioned her sister, who has passed away, and how wonderful she was because of all the small acts of kindness she did. And then it really wasn’t until she passed away that they realized how many. A lot of unsung heroes in this world :-).

  5. nights7 says:

    I grew up in a very traditional Catholic home; reading stories about the lives of various Saints was a part of day to day life. One of my favorites wasn’t a younger girl who came up with the “little way” to sainthood/holiness: she found ways to live right & do good in her regular life. All those little things added up to a whole lot of good. This resonated with me even as a child because we don’t often have the opportunity to do something big and grand but we all make tons of choices a day and they compile into the net yield of our life.
    My sister, the one who recently & unexpectedly died, was a real force for positive change in her community. No one really realized how much good she did, the tremendous impact she made, until her death. Not even her husband. He said something along the lines of “She was always involved in a bunch of projects and always helping someone but even I didn’t see how much she accomplished. And I was right there.” She was 43, worked full time and had a side business, and was raising two kids but she made changes happen. One at a time, little by little. She’s proof that micro change & doing good in the sphere of influence that we do have truly does add up and make a difference.
    I think if more people were aware of that and used the power they DO have for good instead of lamenting the power they don’t have the world would be a dramatically better place in a very short time.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, I’m so very sorry about your sister. She sounds like an unsung hero. I know people like that–they just quietly do a lot of good, never seeking the spotlight for themselves. I’m so glad she was able to do as much good as it sounds like she did. She truly made a difference, from the way you describe her. I have to ask about the saint–Was it Saint Theresa?

      1. nights7 says:

        She was! Everyone who met my sister knew she was a change-maker. She’d see a problem or an injustice and say “How can we fix that?” And if she didn’t have the right tools she would find someone who did and spur them into action.

        I think so. I couldn’t remember if it was St. Theresa or St. Therese. One of those very similar names.

      2. candidkay says:

        I knew it! I used to devour saint books when I was young and she was a saint that stuck with me–we were probably reading the same book, you and I:).

  6. THAT is one beautiful post! And I don’t believe you are alone in your belief that small acts of kindness can truly change the world. In fact, I’m rather counting on it. I’m counting on the fact that there are more “decent” people out there than loudmouth pundits spouting off day in and day out in the media. As I read your post, I was unable to discern your political affiliation, or any big causes in which you are involved. That’s because you put “acting decent” at the front of your priorities. I wish I knew you IRL! ~ Lynn

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you. I think we can be good to each other Whether we agree with each other’s political views or not. And in that being good, we will become more tolerant of each other. At least I hope so.

  7. Our country is lacking adults and true leaders. Knowing people like you are raising part of this next generation gives us all hope.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you. Many of my fellow parents certainly give me hope:-).

  8. I wholeheartedly agree. Be the change. Small steps add up to big things. Imagine the ripple effect if everyone did this. I try and I do, but I very much needed this reminder today. Thank you!

    1. candidkay says:

      I keep hoping we’re heading toward a bigger and bigger ripple effect. Fingers and toes crossed.

  9. I agree with you about the importance of doing what we can, even if it’s so very little in the grand scheme of things. A little decency goes a long way. And sustaining it — in all that we do — keeps us from letting things fall to even deeper lows. Being consistently decent is a comfort to all around us that can keep alive hope for the more meaningful change we need. Decency, today and tomorrow, and always. You might have guessed I would appreciate the concepts of decency and sustained hope; I’m a midwesterner, too.

    1. candidkay says:

      So I somehow was thinking an East Coast gal moved West–Seattle, Montana (Big Sky) or somesuch. See how I think of you? 🙂

  10. Jane Fritz says:

    Reblogged this on Robby Robin's Journey and commented:
    This message of choosing action, however small, over helplessness resonated strongly with me. It reminds us that we’re far better off getting past our occasional despair at the ways of the world and seeking out the good, and the kindness in people.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks again for the reblog! I truly appreciate it!

  11. suemclaren24 says:

    You have a lot of company in these sentiments. I am a total believer in the incremental positive change we can each create every day. I surprised myself a few days ago when a fellow said “Hi!” to me, and rather than respond with a Hi, I asked him if I knew him. He said “no”, and that made me think – he was giving me the gift of a hello and I was suspicious, despite other people being nearby. He was not trying to pick me up; he was simply being pleasant. It surprised me, and caused me to think about my effect on others and about the world that is being created around us.

    1. candidkay says:

      I love that he was just being a pleasant! That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about :-). And I love that you were able to flip your attitude to be receptive to it.

  12. There is great power in the small changes we commit to each day. It doesn’t take much, but the ripple effect is immense! Thanks for reminding us of this gift Kay, you are beautiful 💕💚

    1. candidkay says:

      Right back ‘atcha 💕

  13. mydangblog says:

    I absolutely believe in everything you’ve said here. Thank you!

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank YOU for reading and commenting. I appreciate your presence here . . .

  14. markbialczak says:

    The world thanks you, Kay. It really does, in ways little and large.

    1. candidkay says:

      Karma😊. A beautiful thing!

  15. Very true dear lady, we give from what we are and if you can smile and shake someones hand then you have begun that very energy around you…and on it ripples. You may be surprised just how far a smile can travel in a day 😀
    As for the whole world smiling at once, it is not meant to. And as for the whole world collapsing in a screaming heap, its not meant to do that either. But what it is meant to do is discover itself as it bounces between those poles.
    And speaking of which, even though there are some crazy people running this world, we also have a much stronger voice and are no longer afraid to put it out there, especially with the technology and the media we now have, even though we are being manipulated by that very same thing.
    Now if we could just get them to listen we’ll be fine. Even they can’t be that stupid that this world is getting angrier because of what they do, and like the protests over Vietnam etc it is going to come back and bite them. But that too is needed so that they can see we are no longer tolerating the deceit, lies and fear mongering that they use to pocket their greed that has become very entrenched in all politics around the world these days. And change will only happen after a peak has been reached and forces us to act, regardless of our circumstances. For just ourselves or even as a community.
    So…about that smile…it is always our choice 😀

    1. candidkay says:

      Here’s to balance, the power in ordinary people and that smile 😊. Thanks, as always, for sharing your wisdom, Mark!

  16. Roy McCarthy says:

    Reblogged this on Back On The Rock and commented:
    I rarely reblog, but here’s an exception written by Kristine, an American journo and top blogger. She sets out a single precept that we should all live by.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Roy! I’m honored this one struck you that much:). Here’s to the ripple of kindness getting ever bigger.

  17. Well said. It’s such an easy and false argument to make it an all-or-nothing choice: as if an individual must tackle only those massive complex worldwide problems, and anything less is pointless.

    1. candidkay says:

      I hope a lot of people share our sentiment! Earth-changing:).

  18. Love this! I try really hard to be generally decent at all times, and maybe it doesn’t matter…but it matters to me. And it might just make the people on the receiving end of my little smidge of kindness feel a little better, too. Sometimes that’s all I have to give, but I feel good about giving it. ❤️

    1. candidkay says:

      If that’s all you have to give, it’s more than enough! Love hearing you’re a kindness warrior❤️

  19. marlene frankel says:

    I agree! I try and put one foot in front of the other, and keep my inner qualities despite what is being thrown at me at any one time. My core values of being honest, helping when I can, connecting with people I meet, and taking care of my responsibilities guide me each day.

    1. candidkay says:

      And some days, that one foot in front of the other can be a slog:). But it’s the big pic that matters, right? Kudos to you!

  20. Su Leslie says:

    You aren’t alone in this!
    I love this post. You are saying and doing what I think, say and do (to the best of my abilities). I am involved in a few “big issue” things, but what keeps me going day to day is trying my hardest to be the best person I can be, and raising my son to be the same.
    I muse frequently (often on WP) about how the huge horribleness of the world seems kind of removed from the decency I see in my daily life. I’m not saying there aren’t arseholes in my community (letter-box smashers, I’m looking at you), but there are also an awful lot of ordinary people trying to do their best.
    You’ve given voice to that, and I thank you.

    1. candidkay says:

      I love to hear that you see a lot of good! Gives me hope👍🏻. I have to believe there are more kind, decent people than not.

      1. Su Leslie says:

        Me too; sanity depends on it.

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