What Does it Mean to Make a Difference?

Tomorrow is National Make a Difference Day, a day when people of all ages are encouraged to get out and volunteer in their communities (you can find service events in your area here).  Projects range from planting trees to volunteering at a food bank to painting a preschool. And while, of course, helping out in this way is necessary and awesome and encouraged, the concept also made me think about the little ways we make a difference in each other’s lives everyday. The things we do that maybe we don’t even give a second thought to.


Think back and recall the times in your life when someone did something for you that, to this day, still means something to you. For me, a couple things spring to mind. The first was when I first moved to New York City and knew very few people. There was a man who stood at my subway stop and gave out newspapers, but more importantly, he greeted everyone with a smile and a warm, genuine, “Good morning.” Those who frequented that station often took a break from their commute to stop and chat with him. As someone who was still uncertain what I was doing in a big, bustling city, it helped to have a reminder that there are kind people wherever you go, even in a place thought to be the most neurotic and unfriendly in America by a survey of 620,000 people. The other act of kindness that stands out is when I was running a marathon 5 years ago. My friend’s father was also running it, and at around the 20-mile mark, when I was s-t-r-u-g-g-l-i-n-g, he came up from behind me and ran with me the rest of the way. He didn’t do anything especially out of the ordinary. He just stuck with me (when he could easily have run ahead of me and gotten a better time), talked to me, and took my mind off the ache in my legs. I didn’t ask him to run with me, but it was exactly what I needed at the time.


I’ll bet you’re making a difference in your child’s life by doing things you don’t give a second thought, too: Making him stick to his bedtime so he gets a good night’s sleep, giving him a hug, or offering him an apple instead of the cookies that he’d prefer. These things may be small, your child may even resent you (now) for a couple of them, but they matter.


Who would you like to thank for making a difference in your life? Big or small, share your stories of kindness in the comments. And go out and pay it forward tomorrow (or any ol’ day) by volunteering, bringing new parents in your neighborhood a home cooked meal, or greeting others with a friendly smile.


Image: “Make a Difference” stickie.

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