Just as the sum of our individual actions brought us to where we are,
the sum of our individual actions will take us to where we want to be.
There was a lot of head-nodding during the inaugural address, as President Obama outlined his agenda and emphasized a direction of unity for our country and planet. If you agreed with what he said, there's no need to wait until the rain of government policy change trickles down to the local level. You can do your part to meet it halfway.
Now is the time to connect the big policy rhetoric to your own life. Here are a few suggestions for taking daily action on the issues in the inaugural address, and finding your larger purpose or place of engagement in civic and social responsibility. There is a need everywhere -- sometimes it's just a matter of tuning into the inequities in your own community, and dialoguing about who's working on the issues.
To paraphrase our new President, it's the time for putting away childish things, and getting to work, joyfully. Here are a few ideas.
So, you want to...
Cut waste: Take your own cup. Stop buying bottled water now. Recycle everything. Compost. Don't waste food.
Pay attention: Mind your food miles and choose to buy locally when you can. Practice conscious consumption -- if you don't need it, or don't think it's absolutely beautiful, don't buy it. Know where your stuff comes from, and how it's made. Know where it will go at the end of the day.
Reduce fossil fuel use: Go Solar. Walk more. Bike. Combine trips. Drive Less. Take Public Transit. Ride Share. Carpool. Give up your car. Telecommute. Even try to shorten your work week in favor of a civic project from time to time.
Learn the basics about reducing water, energy consumption, waste, and developing eco habits with GoGreenOnline.com. For building and remodeling advice, check out BulidItGreen. Find green products at SustainLane.com. Advocate and learn about green jobs at GreenForAll.org.
Improve racial and religious understanding?
Get fresh in your thinking: Be aware that your way of seeing the world often stops you from seeing things as they are. Our biases tend to set expectations and confirm existing beliefs. It takes effort to notice how you truly think about people different than you -- and to stay fresh in your thinking. Make the effort! Start by examining your own biases by taking some of the online tests at Project Implicit -- they are meant to show your degree of subconscious bias by religion, even disability.
Use brazen public sources: Humor always has some truth to it. A few people have put themselves out there as self-nominated poster children to bridge awkward cross cultural misunderstanding. Check out Stuff White People Like, or sites like AskaMexican.net, and Ask a Muslim Woman on Café Mom.
Sign on and promote Karen Armstrong's Charter for Compassion, a global effort to heal the rift in the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). There are other great resources available on About.com and ReligiousTolerance.org.
To get the ultimate education on privilege, check out Tim Wise.
Find your own fascination: Read Discover and Scientific American. Listen to Nature's podcasts as you're commuting. As your knowledge and interest grows, so will your commitment to getting that knowledge to the rest of the world. Check out more links at Science Education Research.
Get involved in a local science advocacy group.
Start with the simplest thing: Register and vote, and help others to do the same -- and not just in the sexy presidential election. Build on the momentum of this election with Rock the Vote.
Jump into Participatory democracy: The real grass roots stuff. To get the skinny on organizing in a way that gets action, read the classic Citizens Handbook.
Get and stay educated on the issues: The biggest complaint about democracy is that people don't take the time to understand the issues. Change that, starting with yourself, by connecting up with the objective League of Women Voters. Find a local chapter here.
Poverty may never be eradicated, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't stop trying. You don't have to go far; start by identifying imbalances and finding ways to act right in your own community.
Try direct lending instead of charity: Otherwise known as peer-to-peer microfinance. The default rates are lower than traditional loans, and you can keep the money going around, investing in micro business that can produce income for those who need most -- from cell phone rentals, to sewing machines, and commercial cookware: Try Kiva, or Veecus.
Advocate for women's rights, here and around the world: There is a direct connection between women's rights, education, health and global poverty levels. Learn more about the proven connection at the Hunger Project.
Read and learn about viable solutions: Read Jeff Sachs. Read "The Bottom Billion"- unsentimental prescriptions for poverty. These guys make some pretty sensible recommendations, and also show how the money works out when you invest ahead and create healthy, engaged populations. Things like eliminating school fees and supporting community nutrition. Learn more at the Earth Institute. http://www.results.org/website/article.asp?id=1459
Take care of your own health: According to McKinsey, chronic disease is the number one problem in American healthcare -- much of it is preventable. So, stop smoking and exercise. Don't eat corn syrup, fake sugar, or too much straight sugar. Eat fresh and local. Skip the saturated fat. Meditate and train your mind and nervous system. Don't burden society with illness you could have prevented.
Digitize your records: A huge amount of excess costs are from repeated tests, lack of history, or lack of trend. Get a jump on the new government electronic records initiatives -- have your health records digitized and keep it on a thumb drive. Take it with you whenever you're traveling and when you're seeing a new doctor. Try Google Health's free service, which imports existing electronic records and helps convert paper records, or Records for Living.
Be your own advocate: Work to lower costs for all and get better care by taking charge of your own health care. Ask questions, do your own research, know your body. Get generic prescription whenever possible. Negotiate rates. Review your hospital bills in detail. Cutting waste is all of our responsibility.
Learn about Universal Healthcare: Lean more about transforming healthcare at Code Blue and Results International.
Find Your Calling or Purpose
If you're still stuck, and can't muster up much enthusiasm for engagement or service, maybe you need to do some of your own work. Julia Butterfly Hill's Engage Network offers group process on finding "your passion, your purpose and your power." Check it out at What's Your Tree.