Tuesday, September 16, 2014

20 Ways You Can Change The World

After 3 years without watching a news broadcast or reading a newspaper, I happened to glance down at my dad's paper on the kitchen bench this morning, and curiosity got the better of me

I didn't even finish reading the first paragraph of the first page before I walked away in disgust. 

It was all about war. 

I went away feeling helpless and angry, until I remembered that we need to be the change we want to see in the world! Let's focus on what we CAN do. 

We are not victims. We always have a choice. And for every action, no matter how small, there is a re-action.  

1.) Believe that you can. The biggest mistake is to do nothing, because you thought you could only do a little.

Even if, in your entire life, you only impact one other person in a positive way, isn't that something worth celebrating?

That one person might be the first member of a family to break free from generations of poverty and violence. That one person might become the next Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa. That one person may be setting an example to her own young children.

Don't ever underestimate the power of your actions. One small gesture can change another person's life - for better or for worse. And many people doing small acts with great love can, and will, change the landscape of a society.

2. Buy Organic: As much as you can possibly afford. Research tells us that people in industrialised countries consume 6 - 7 kilograms of chemical food additives every year. So by the time our children turn 10, they've already consumed more than their own body weight in chemical food additives.

But if you are anything like me, you set off to the market with the best of intentions, only to discover that your weekly grocery budget is only enough to cover one day's worth of organic produce, and....well....intentions go by the wayside.

So, what's a savvy shopper to do?! The answer: you do the best you can. I have found that things like flours, breads, rices, and grains are easiest to go organic, because they are roughly double (give or take) what the usual price is. But meats and fruits and vegetables can be as much as 3 or 4 times the usual price.

Alternatively, you could focus on buying those foods that are more easily affected by chemicals - also known as the Dirty Dozen Foods.

Every time you choose organic over conventional, you are encouraging more farmers to adopt sustainable farming practices.

The other alternative is to grow more of your own food...Which leads me to...

3. Produce as much food for yourself. Not only is it healthy, and you reduce transport and chemicals by reducing your dependance on commercially grown produce. But there is nothing more satisfying, then picking something out of the garden, and eating it fresh.

Even if you are a high-rise city dweller, a small balcony is enough space to grow all your own herbs, and salad greens. Yes, really! And they are super easy to look after. In my experience, the easiest plants to grow for complete bumbling newbies or those who have a "brown thumb", are: potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, rosemary, parsley, chives, mint, strawberries, aloe vera, and silverbeet. These plants are just about impossible to kill, if you plant them in the right season.

I have been growing summer vegetables for 7 years now, and never had to use a commercially-produced spray or fertilizer. To kill off pests, make up a mix of water, finely minced chilli, and finely minced garlic, and pour into a spray bottle. I spray this on the plants every couple of weeks over Summer, and have not had a problem with pests yet.

For a fertilizer, there are a couple of things I use: banana peels. You can leave them on the ground, and they leach into the soil as they rot, or you can leave them in a bucket of water for a number of days, until it is like a "tea" and pour it onto your plants.

Seaweed: Collected from the beach. Carefully rinse off the salt, then put in a covered bucket of water for a week, or until it has started to break down. Throw the remains into your compost, and use the water on your plants.

Crushed eggshells thrown on the garden. I also use the water left after steaming vegetables, on my pot-plants.

4. Let your light shine. Can kindness change the world? Absolutely!! Every act, has a ripple effect, just like a stone landing on a lake.

Do something for others without expecting anything in return, or without seeking acknowledgement.

It's easy to be "kind" when everyone is watching. Real kindness happens when nobody is watching. When we get no thanks, but we do it anyway.

Go out of your way, and do one small act of kindness every day. It doesn't have to be big and impressive. Take your neighbors bin out. Let someone in when driving in traffic. Stand up and let a tired mum have your seat on the train.
I guarantee that there is no quicker fix for feeling down, or lonely, or worthless, than helping someone else. 

5. Vote with your wallet. Many of us are scathing when we talk about large corporations razing rainforests, polluting the air, and poisoning the rivers....yet, we continue to buy their products. I think many companies play on the fact that the vast majority of consumers are time-poor and don't have time to research which companies are ethical, and which are not.

If you don't like how a certain company conducts their business, don't support them. Write to those companies to tell them WHY you are boycotting their products. If a company gets enough of these letters, I guarantee they will sit up and take notice. After all, they have to explain lost profits to their shareholders.

It's simple supply and demand. If we all stopped buying glossy magazines that glorify skinny celebrities tomorrow, do you think they would continue to produce them? Of course not.

Consumers have incredible power to effect change, but most of us don't take advantage of it. Companies rely on us for their very existence. Without the customer there is no business! Every dollar you spend is like a vote for that company and that product.

We need to stop unconsciously reaching for the product on the shelf, with the prettiest packaging and the most impressive claims on the front, and really think about what we are buying, and the message we are sending to companies.

6. Invest wisely. This is similar to the above point.

For anyone who invests in shares, choose them wisely. Do you really want your hard-earned money to be used for exploiting third world countries in the name of profit, or using sweat-shop labourers in the name of cost-cutting? There are now organisations, like Ethical Investor who will do the homework for you.

7. Reduce, Re-use and Recycle. I know this saying is starting to sound like a cliche, but I want you to really think about it for a minute. Most people think of landfill, when they hear "Reduce, Re-use, Recycle", but the philosophy is MUCH more than just landfill. (And landfill is serious enough as it is: The average Aussie family throws out 1.14 tonnes of rubbish every year.)

Think about it this way: For every piece of packaging, tin can, bottle, box, not to mention the item inside the packaging....a natural resource has been used up, chemicals have been used in the production (which eventually leaches into the soil, and then our waterways), coal-fired power was used to manufacture it, air pollution has been created, and then before it can reach your local shop, there's fuel (and therefore, oil) to get it there. 

How much pollution and waste has been caused by that one product that you didn't really need, anyway?

 - One of the quickest and easiest ways to reduce rubbish, is to compost food scraps. You don't need an expensive compost bin, just a sunny corner of the garden. Aerate it regularly, and when it has broken down, spread it over your garden and pot plants. It also means you have less need of fertiliser.

 - Why pay $5.95 for a birthday card, when you can use your kids artworks and turn them into a card that is also a keepsake? Large drawings or paintings can be used as wrapping paper. You save money at the same time.

 - Look for different uses for things, before throwing them out. There are plenty of tutorials on the internet, showing how to make utensil containers out of empty baby formula tins and all kinds of creative re-purposing.

 - If you are thinking about buying an appliance that you won't use very often, such as a laminator, or a dehydrator or whipper-snipper, think about going halves with a neighbour, or a friend that lives nearby. Not only does it cost less, but you consume less, and that means less clutter all round.

 - Realise that more stuff doesn't make you happy. Keeping up appearances doesn't make you happy. Impressing other people doesn't make you happy....Okay, you might have felt a smug satisfaction for 5 minutes, but then you're left with....more stuff, and probably more credit card debt.

 - Use cloth instead of disposable. Cloth dishcloths instead of chux/disposable cloths, cloth napkins instead of paper napkins, handkerchiefs instead of tissues, cloth nappies instead of disposable, cloth baby wipes instead of chemical-filled disposable ones, cloth sanitary pads instead of disposable, diva cup instead of disposable tampons. Not only do you drastically cut down on waste, but you save a bucketload of money, too. (And no, it does not create mountains of washing. One extra load per week, at the most.)

 - Reduce your reliance on energy-guzzling appliances. Turn the heater down, and wear warmer clothes. Open windows on opposite sides of the house for cross-ventilation, instead of turning on the air-conditioner. Hang the clothes outside instead of using the dryer (not only do they use water and energy, they emit massive amounts of positive ions, which deplete energy. Stand beside a dryer for a while, and you'll start to feel fatigued and depressed.)

8. Invest in the next generation. With everybody getting busier and busier, and families becoming more fragmented, our children need mentors and positive role models more than ever. I'm not talking about simply parents and grandparents, I'm talking about everyone. 

All of us. 

It really does take a village to raise a child.

Help out at the local school by reading to the kids, or sharing a skill. Offer the kid-next-door some pocket money to help you out in the garden, and while you're at it, teach him everything you know about gardening, and take an interest in his life. Not only is he learning a life skill, but you are letting him know that he matters.

When my eldest son was small he was a complete super-hero buff. His idea of bliss was to spend a whole day watching Cartoon Network. My dad, on the other hand, doesn't even own a TV, and didn't have the foggiest clue who Ben 10 or Hulk was....yet my son still adores his Grandpa more than any super-hero on TV

You know why?

Because his grandpa gives him time and attention. It's really that simple. He goes outside and kicks the football around with him, or races him to the shed. Little things matter to little kids...

I believe that when you take away the ipods, and Nintendo's, and "coolness", todays children are just the same as the yesterdays children. They want to know they matter. And that they belong somewhere.

For parents, it means modelling the behaviour that we wish to see in our children. Too often we are lecturing our kids about manners, while cutting someone else off in traffic. Or complaining that they never listen, while we are talking over the top of them. (Oh wait, maybe that's just me? My son pointed this out to me one day, and I was ashamed to admit he was right..)

Invest in the little people. They are the future of our world.

9. Lend your passion to a good cause. Is there an issue that really fires you up? Some injustice that breaks your heart?

Most of us never go any further than having a rant or a whinge about the world. Use your passion to make a difference. Be the change you want to see in the world!

There are SO many groups and organizations out there, for just about every issue you can imagine. Here's a few to get you started.

 - 1000 Mums Making a Difference. A group of mums dedicated to raising awareness about the additives and chemicals in our food.

 - Toogoolawah School for Boys takes at-risk boys and aims to educate and mentor them, with an emphasis, not so much on academic achievement, but on building good character. Founded by property investor, John L.Fitzgerald.

 -Kiva is an organization where you can lend money, as little as $25, to help an entrepreneur in the developing world, to start their own business. When they start making some money, they pay you back, and you can then choose to help someone else.

 - Kids Free to Be Kids are a group that fights against the sexualization of children in the media and the fashion industry, and restrict the kind of advertising that children are exposed to.

- Yasminah's Gift of Hope is a support network for those who have been affected by premature birth, stillbirth or neonatal death. It was started by a mother whose baby girl, Yasminah, was stillborn in 2009.

But you get the picture!! Whatever floats your boat! Whatever tickles your fancy! The world needs more people who actually care enough to do something about it.

10.) Celebrate wisdom and experience. Our society is obsessed with youth and beauty. The magazines are covered with skinny starlets who are famous for being, well....famous. The idealism and energy of youth are important, yes, but so are the wisdom and experience of our elders.

 - Boycott so-called "anti-wrinkle" creams. Not only are they expensive, it's highly doubtful whether they make a speck of difference. You would be better off spending that money on antioxidant fruits like strawberries and blueberries. What you put IN, will always matter more than what you put ON.

And besides, if you reach a ripe old age without a wrinkle or two, then you've either been injecting poison into your face (Botox is short for botulinim toxin, you know?) or you've never learnt how to smile. Be wrinkly and happy, not flawless and miserable!

 - Same goes with hair dyes. Hair dyes are absolute poison. Yet we put them onto our scalp where the blood vessels are close to the skin surface, and our skin literally "drinks" it in. We shouldn't have to feel that we need to cover up our natural color, in order to be successful in our careers or personal lives. Some of the most beautiful and inspiring women I know, have gorgeous, natural  gray hair.

 - Be proud of a live well lived. Be kind to yourself. True beauty lives in the spirit of a person, and the outward changes that come with the years, can never take that away.

 - Celebrate our elders. Too often, they feel invisible and worthless. The irony here, is that in today's world, we have families who are stressed and pressed for time, and would give their right arm for some extra support. While on the other hand, we have older people sitting at home, feeling lonely, and just aching to feel like they are still useful to someone. Silly, isn't it?!

Every time we speak negatively about aging, or try to hide our age, we are perpetuating the myth that old age is to be avoided at all costs. Old age has become a negative concept, because our unhealthy lifestyles mean that we are run-down, and out-of-shape (and probably on all manner of medications) by the time we arrive there. It doesn't have to be that way!!

If you live a healthy, active life, then your latter years should be enjoyable and fruitful.

There are groups like Adopt a Grandparent that aim to match up senior Australians with young families. Or you can just go to your nearest Aged Care home, and ask if there is anyone there who would appreciate some extra visitors from time to time. Ask them about their life. It would be a terrible shame if we let our older generation die without learning from their stories.

11.) Reduce your dependance on chemicals. Every time you use chemicals, they end up in the air, in our waterways, in our soil. It's really not that hard to live without chemicals. Really, I kid you not!! We only think we need them because of clever marketing.

Here's a few tips to help you cut back or eliminate chemicals in your home:

Laundry: In my washing machine, I use bi-carb soda (baking soda), and vinegar (which also acts as a fabric softener), plus a couple of drops of water-soluble essential oil, which adds a nice hint of aroma, but also acts as a disinfectant.

By the way, vinegar and bi-carb are also fantastic for keeping drains clear.

I have never owned a stain remover. Did you know that the sun is very efficient at removing most stains?  Just hang the item in the sun for a few hours. This works just fine for white cloth nappies.

Cleaning: I use a spray bottle with a couple of drops of eucalyptus oil, in vinegar. This is my multi-purpose cleaner, that I use everywhere, including showers or toilets. On kitchen benches I use straight vinegar. I never use bleach, not only is it a harsh chemical whose fumes are disgusting, but it erodes enamel after a while.

Invest in some microfiber clothes. Not only do they cut cleaning time, but they cut water use dramatically, and they make it easier to clean with all-natural products like vinegar or lemon juice.

12.) Cultivate good manners. I know there are some people who think they're outdated and don't matter.

I disagree (respectfully!).

It certainly did matter when I was heavily pregnant and had to carry my groceries home on the bus. My legs were swollen, my back hurt, and I just wanted to sit down....Except the bus-stop was full of teenage boys, just out from school, and no-one took the slightest bit of notice, let alone offered up their seat.

Of course manners matter! Every time you open the door for someone, thank them for their time, offer your seat to an elderly person, you are saying to them "You matter...You are important too".

13. Be healthy. I really cannot overstate this enough. If you want to fulfill your true potential, and make a positive difference to others, you must nurture your body properly

If you are not healthy you are probably going to struggle with hormonal issues, not handle stress very well, catch every "bug" going around, feel fatigued and unmotivated, and eventually succumb to some form of dis-ease or illness.

If you are living on a standard Western Diet, it's almost a given that you have nutritional deficiencies of some kind. In fact, science tells us that we would need to eat 10 times the amount of food that our grandparents ate, just to get the same amount of nutrients. That's because our soils are nutrient deficient. Then add in the fact that most of us eat less vegetables, and more packaged foods, than our grandparents did, and well....you start to understand why we're overweight, fatigued and stressed.

You would be surprised how far-reaching the consequences can be. Even a minor deficiency in some obscure trace element or mineral is enough to wreak havoc on a person.

For instance, did you know that hyperactivity in children can be caused by something as simple as a magnesium deficiency? It breaks my heart to think about how many children are out there,  bewildered over why they can't seem to control their own actions, constantly in trouble at home and at school, parents pushed to the brink and ready to give up....all because of a simple mineral deficiency that could so easily be fixed with changes to diet.

Or that a deficiency in zinc can cause a loss of sex drive, irritability, low immune system, and miserable PMS symptoms? How many women (not to mention their frustrated partners) are struggling with these issues, and wondering "What's wrong with me?"

Most people consider themselves to be fairly healthy. I used to be one of them...until I started doing my own research. A truly healthy person does not get cold's or flu, does not need any prescription or over-the-counter medications. A truly healthy person exudes energy and happiness.
My advice is to regularly see a holistic healthcare practitioner, such as a naturopath or kinesiologist. One that sees the body as a whole, and is committed to healing the problem rather than hiding the symptoms.


14.) Learn to let Go. Life is what you make it. If you choose to be controlled by your circumstances and the actions of others, then you are going to spend a lot of time, miserable and terribly frustrated.

Ask yourself if this is going to matter in another 100 years. Next time someone cuts you off in traffic, or talks about you behind your back, ask yourself if it really matters in the scheme of things? If the answer is no, then let it go, and get on with living.

The same goes for forgiveness. Bitterness and resentment are terribly heavy burdens. No matter how badly you've been hurt, learn to let it to, otherwise you are only punishing yourself.

I learnt a surprising lesson on forgiveness this year. I had been carrying around some baggage for a long time, over the hurtful actions of someone I once loved. I thought I needed to forgive him. Turns out that I needed to forgive me.

I wasn't angry with him at all. I was angry with me. For being so "young and stupid". For struggling to get over him for so long. For trying too hard. For not trying hard enough.

It felt so liberating to admit this. And so nice, to make friends with myself.

15.) Lighten UP. Children laugh on average 400 times per day, while adults laugh only 17 times a day. Laughter and fun seem to come so easily to children. As we grow up, and take on more responsibilities, we change. There is no longer the inclination to do things "just for the fun of it". We become goal-orientated, and we feel that we are wasting our time if we are not accomplishing things.

Now, don't get me wrong. Goals are good. It would be a tragic waste to wander through life, aimlessly, with no direction. But, as a wise person once said: "We are in danger of becoming Human Doings. Not Human Beings".

We don't always have to be doing something with an end goal in mind. It's okay to just be. It's okay to take time out for relaxation and fun sometimes. Tell a joke. Learn to see the funny side.

And remember: He who learn to laugh at himself, will never cease to be amused :-)

16. Exercise your Democratic Rights. Many of us in the Western world are blessed to be able to live in a democratic society. While it's not perfect, it does have a lot of positives We are able to speak out for what we believe in, we are able to use people power to bring about change.

The role of a government in a democratic society, is to represent the will of the people. This is why they are called public servants. Because they are there to serve the public!

Write to your local political representative about issues that you care about. If enough people do this, then that is how we effect change.

Signing a petition can be effective, if enough names are gathered. So can signing a pre-printed postcard, but a personally addressed letter or email will have the most impact of all.

I absolutely agree with the importance of foreign aid, and of charities and NGO's working with homeless/sick/impoverished/exploited people, but wouldn't it be so much better if the problems weren't there to start with?

Make a stand for fairer trade laws that benefit ALL people, not just those in wealthy countries.

Fight for international laws that prevent companies from using people in third world countries as unknowing guinea pigs in scientific trials.

Ask for better food labelling laws so people can actually make an informed decision about what they're putting into their bodies, and so on...

17.) Support the Little Man. Have you noticed how our cities and towns are becoming eerily similar? Social commentators refer to this as "Clone Towns". Once upon a time, you may have walked down the street and seen deli's, and coffee shops, and gift boutiques.

Now you walk down that same street, and find McDonalds, Starbucks and Subway. Travel to the other side of the world, and you'll probably find the same franchises. Our unique heritage and cultures is gradually being eroded by the " Westernization" of the world.

While these franchises and large supermarkets are convenient, they are publicly traded companies, and their legal responsibility is to their shareholders, NOT to their customer, or to the environment. That is, their first and foremost responsibility is to make as much money as possible.

Many of the "little guys" are there because they love what they do, because they believe in what they're doing, and they care about the service they provide to the community. It's not always just about the money, for them.

So, support your local butcher, and deli, and craft shop. And when you are travelling and see those quaint hand-painted signs saying vegetables for sale along the side of the road, support them too. Small family farms struggle to compete with giant multinational companies in a global marketplace.

18.) Say NO to GMO. Genetic modification of food is here with us, whether we like it or not (and most of us don't, it seems). It was introduced nearly two decades ago, and many people are still completely unaware of the fact.

It's a concept that has been heavily pushed by Monsanto Corporation, as being the answer to world hunger (this is a farce, because world hunger is not caused by food shortages, just unfair distribution of food...), lessens the use of chemicals (this is also a farce. Research shows that the exact opposite has happened, and pesticide use has increased since the arrival of GM crops), increase crop yields (another farce. Again, the exact opposite has happened.)

In India, poor rural farmers were lured into buying GM seeds, with promises of higher-than-ever-before yields, and good prices. Many farmers borrowed heavily to buy the seeds, and when harvests failed - two years in a row, farmers began taking their own life. The supposed "pest-resistant" seeds fell victim to the bollworm. They were never told that the seeds required double the amount of water so when rains failed, the crops simply withered up and died.

An estimated 125,000 farmers have committed suicide in India, since India became a testing ground for genetically modified crops.

You see, genetically modified seeds are patented. You can't just save some of the harvest to grow another crop next year, like you would with traditional seeds. They are inbuilt with so-called "Terminator technology" so that the resulting crops cannot be used to reproduce, so next year, you have to buy a whole new load of seed. AND the genetically modified seeds cost around 10 times more than the traditional seed.

It is obvious that genetic modification was never about "feeding the world", or "raising third-world farmers out of poverty". It is about creating control over the market, and making vast profits.

But wait. It's get's even worse...

Studies on the long term health impacts of genetic food modification are sketchy at best. One lab study fed guinea pigs genetically modified soy, and there was a 25% reduction in fertility after one generation. The second generation had a 90% reduction in fertility.

There are now many studies that back up this link between GM foods and infertility. (They are inbuilt with "Terminator technology, to stop the seed from reproducing, remember? Well, it's looking increasingly possible that it also stops US from reproducing, too.)

And here's another alarming thought. Once GM crops are being grown, there is no way to stop them from being cross-pollinated with other non-GM crops.

PLEASE stand up and be counted on this issue. A good place to start is Say No to GMOs which aims to raise awareness and education about the consequences of genetic engineering of our food. By the way....did you know that 90% of processed food has genetically modified ingredients in it?

19.) Appreciate beauty. It sounds so easy and enjoyable, but why is it so hard? While I think we need to appreciate the beauty of nature more - the changing of the seasons, a flower opened up to the sun, dewdrops on spiderwebs - that's not the only beauty I mean.

See the beauty in others. And see the beauty in ourselves! Too often we are our own harshest judges. Instead of seeing an amazing human body, created by the hand of God, we focus on our bits of flab, or the pimple on our chin, or the crow's feet around our eyes.

I love the words of Mother Teresa - she could see the face of Jesus when she looked upon the sick and the suffering around her. To her they were not wretched and dirty and impoverished, they were precious children of God, worthy of her time and energy.

Look beyond the outer bits, and realize that every person is priceless. Every person is beautiful in their own way - treat them accordingly.

That includes yourself.

20.) Be Yourself. It's that simple. Be-You-tiful!! Think about it...out of the millions of inhabitants who have walked this earth, in times past and times present, there's never been one that was like you, with the same characteristics, gifts, dreams, or abilities.

We are all pieces in the giant jigsaw of humanity, each one so very necessary. No-one else can fulfill the same role, dream the same dream, or follow the same path, as you can. 

So go to it! Small things, done often enough, can and will change the world.

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