By Sharon Taylor –
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
I am always sceptical about quote attributions: John Wesley, the revolutionary Methodist preacher, probably did not write the quote above, despite the Facebook meme. It is still a good way to think about how I live my life.
“Do all the good you can” but think carefully about that “good”. Does it advance your own interests? Does it force others towards the “good” you wish to see? Or does it honestly meet people where they are, in their present need? It is so tempting to see only our own solution to a problem, without considering the needs of those we are seeking to help. When you find yourself thinking, “Why don’t they just…?” remember you only know a small corner of the problem, and nothing of its complications.
“By all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can” with your gifts of time, talent, or tithe (money). Not everyone can afford to donate money; not everyone has time to volunteer. Sometimes, all we can do is boost a cause’s signal by engaging in social networks or telling others about it, whether on social media or sitting at the coffee shop, whether at work or at the playground with your children. Compliment local businesses on Facebook instead of complaining about the selection. Look servers in the eyes and say ‘Thank you’. Ask your co-worker about his marathon or her garden, instead of grumbling about your boss. Jump in and play with the children at the playground instead of sitting on the sidelines. Don’t just be grateful; be the one people are grateful for.
“To all the people you can” and let that other mum sit for a few moments. Don’t worry about that dad checking his phone. Maybe she hasn’t slept all week. Maybe he’s waiting for a call about work. Maybe she is just overwhelmed and you keeping her child busy for five minutes is the only break she’s had in too long. You don’t know. And you don’t need to know. When you can, choose kindness.
“As long as you ever can” and sometimes it is you. Sometimes you are exhausted, frustrated, afraid. Sometimes you need a break, or some space, or a smile, or to be left alone. Sometimes you can’t do anybody any good. And sometimes the world can feel like a cold, empty place.
I’ve written before about the UN Sustainable Development Goals—a big idea, seeking global solutions to everything from hunger to sustainable cities and protecting the planet to peace and justice. We may feel those goals are too big for individuals to make a difference.
But we only have one chance at this life. We only have these people around us, this community to share, this Earth to live on. Our lives are connected, in ways we may never understand, to people in every corner of the world. Our footprint on the world matters ecologically, environmentally, socially, and personally.
Alone, I cannot protect the planet, but I can choose not to buy plants sprayed with pesticides that kill bees. I might not be able to stop the Congo River from being polluted, but I can speak up about industrial waste disposal in my community. I might not be able to stop chocolate plantations from using child slaves, but I can choose not to buy Nestle products. I can choose to buy local produce from family-owned stores rather than save a dollar at a big box store. I can choose BC products over American ones. I can support businesses that diversify our Cariboo economy so that it is not devastated when the softwood lumber dispute heats up again, as it always will. And when I can’t make those choices because of my location or economic situation, I can still educate myself to make the best possible choice in my circumstances.
Will it make a difference to the big companies? Will they notice? No
But I will.
We are not victims. We are agents. We have the choice to act towards others as well as the planet in a way that reduces harm.
John Wesley may not have written the quote above, but he certainly preached on the need “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly” [Micah 6:8].
That’s not a bad way to get through life, either.
For more information about the UN Sustainable Development Goals and BC’s part in that movement, go to http://bccic.ca/bc2030/.
Sharon Taylor has lived in Williams Lake most of the past 35 years with her husband Rob. Together they have raised four loving and compassionate children, have taught hundreds of students in elementary school and at the university, and have been leaders in the Anglican church here and in Vancouver. Sharon works with the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society to help newcomers to Canada settle in the Cariboo.