To make a difference in the world is a sentiment many share. Some dedicate their lives to these words—firefighters, nurses, doctors, teachers and so on. For others, it’s a feeling that may only arise at some point in their lives. Regardless, I sometimes wonder what lies at the heart of this undoubtedly noble wish.
Idea of Altruism
One of the elements clearly apparent in this sentiment is sharing and giving. To make a difference requires we share or give something to that world. And in order to do so, the needs of the other must be placed ahead of our own. We’re guided by feelings of altruism, which, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “the unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others.”
Some might say that true altruism doesn’t exist. After all, that feeling of reward we experience after placing the needs of another before our own is just that, a reward. Still, the goal is not to seek that reward. I’ll feel good about myself, if I give to this person.
For those making a donation to a charity shop, no reward is expected (Source: Gustavo Fring at Pexels)
No, the goal is simply to give to another with no thought of a reward. In so doing, we lay the groundwork for making a difference in the world.
Sense of Oneness
So, to make a difference in the world, a feeling of altruism is good. In my opinion, another attribute that must play a role is a sense of oneness. It certainly helps. Oneness, by its nature, means our own needs merge with those of others. Interconnectedness is at the heart of oneness.
There is a need to focus on others beyond our self identity. Our self is essentially who we are as an individual, arising through individuation—our characteristics, attributes, finer nuances of our personality, as well as our consciousness. As both our conscious and unconscious “selves,” we develop into someone who is unique. It is who we are as people.
With a sense of oneness, our sense of self diminishes and instead we focus on how we are joined as one. John Lennon understood it most keenly, describing oneness simply as, “I am he, as you are he, as you are me, and we are all together.”
When we do so, we form the groundwork for making a difference. Whatever we do, it will focus on the needs of all, for we are all together as one.
Something Bigger Than Ourselves
People are often defined by an inherent yearning for interconnectedness and sense of belonging. Whether to our families, community, circle of friends or to some sort of movement, we feel connected to something bigger than ourselves and are thereby strengthened.
In other respects, we may be connected to something bigger than ourselves in terms of our spiritual transcendence. It may be to something tied to our beliefs, for instance, to nature, our religion, spirituality, or to a larger community. We may feel it gazing deep into a forest or for others looking upon an iconic symbol of their religion.
Finally, we may be connected to something bigger than ourselves in terms of our service to the world. For instance, the initiatives guiding the actions of some may be tied to a purpose to help those disadvantaged in their community.
In any case, when we belong to something bigger than ourselves, however that is accomplished, we feel more equipped and prepared to address issues that before seemed impossible to face. Dogged determination and courage are then our sacred vows.
Thus, there is no question any individual so prepared will be able to make a difference in the world.
Forgetting Our “Self” to Make a Difference
So, what always seems to be at the heart of these credos—the essence of altruism, a sense of oneness, or focussing on something bigger than ourselves—is to somehow forget our selves.
However defining and pertinent to us, our focus turns from our “selves” to a deep link to others. Once this is achieved, we are in a place where we can unite and indeed make a difference in the world.
For example, what happens when we organise a clean-up of the community. Our focus is not on our selves and our personal needs. Altruistically, we give with no conception of reward for our actions.
We may stand back and look in awe at the multitude of bags collected and feel a sense of oneness. Through our inherent interconnectedness and through a wish to serve, we have come together with a single goal in mind. En masse, we feel connected to something bigger than ourselves.
Ultimately, the multitude of bags collected, was the result. Together, our actions have allowed us to make a difference.
Size Doesn’t Matter
And make no mistake, when we’re thinking of making a difference in our world, there’s no need for it to be a substantial one.
Some have the opportunity to make an enormous difference. If that opportunity arises, please don’t hesitate. We’ve heard of various stories recounting such tales, such as those who have donated an organ to a complete stranger.
Yet, it needn’t be so enormous. It can be as small as offering a smile or paying someone else’s parking ticket or bus fare. The fact of the matter is doing so, we make a difference in another’s life.
No matter how small, it can be life-changing.
Some Final Thoughts
Many of us seek to make a difference in this world. As we can see, several things are at work in our lives, laying the groundwork for us to do so. Most importantly, we have to remember it doesn’t always need a lot of thought or planning.
Go about your day, and you’ll no doubt encounter numerous opportunities to make a difference in the world. It may be that major decision to go through with the decision to foster a child. Perhaps it’s the decision to come together with other like-minded individuals and build low-income housing. Otherwise, it may just be a split-second decision to smile at that homeless woman who’s always at the corner panhandling. Fact is, it all makes a difference.
Anonymous 2023 “What is Altruism? Does it Really Exist?” https://medium.com/syndicate-post/what-is-altruism-does-it-really-exist-d36ff8148c91
Anonymous 2023 “Belonging” Ideas in English https://ideasinenglish.com/belonging/
Anonymous 2023 “The Self” Vaia https://www.hellovaia.com/explanations/psychology/personality-in-psychology/the-self/
Rosengren, Curt 2017 “How to live a meaningful life: Connection with something greater than yourself – part two” Aliveness & IMPACT https://www.curtrosengren.com/how-to-live-a-meaningful-life-connection-with-something-greater-than-yourself-part-two/
Saavedra, Justine, 2023 “How To Make a Difference: In People’s Lives, The Community, & The World” Berkeley Well-Being Institute https://www.berkeleywellbeing.com/make-a-difference.html