Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, the day when we are supposed to "show our love," "express our kindness," "show the ones we love we care."
While I think Valentine's Day is fun and sweet, I am always fascinated by the push to "construct happiness." Our society has us believe that "manufactured happiness" is the key to true happiness. The candy, the jewelry, the gifts we buy—or receive—are supposed to fill our hearts and be indicators of how much we love or how much we are loved. Which leads me to ask, what happens when the gifts are gone, or grow old? Does that feeling of love or kindness remain? I often ponder the path to true happiness in a society where happiness is just a "swipe" away; after all, Visa is everywhere we want to be.
And then, out of the blue, I see an entrance to this path.
Last week I had the honor and privilege of speaking to a group of more than 100 eighth grade students. This was a daunting task to me. I can speak to adults and the 9 and under set without issue. But the tweens and teens make me nervous. Is it their general demeanor, the stretching of boundaries and their constant need to "push it"? As they grow and explore themselves, they become these remarkably confident (sometimes overly so) beings who have less to prove to the adults they encounter and more to prove to their friends. To say the least, they unnerve me. But last week, I had the pleasure of speaking to this particular group—and learning from them.
I spoke on the topic of "service learning" and about how important it is for all of us to become involved in a positive and constructive manner. I spoke about civic duty and what it means to "live civilly." At first, the looks were quizzical, but then, as they interacted with me and each other, we gained some traction. We determined that to "live civilly" means to identify those things that we as humans should do to be constructive within our community—our family community, our school community, our town community, our global community.
Live Civilly conducts an educational activity in classrooms and at roundtables frequently that was developed by a supporter, and now dear friend, of our organization, who is an educator. It is simple, and yet kids and adults alike participate in it and love it. The beauty of this activity is the way it distills this concept of "should do" and makes it accessible and applicable to everyone.
I challenged this group of 100+ to think about a single act, one single small act, that might seem insignificant to them, but might mean the world to someone else. And strangely enough, this request to identify one single act is what stumps us as we get older. The older we get, the more we tend to ascribe to the theories of "bigger is better" or "if it's worth doing, it's worth doing BIG." And this is where we get stuck. So I asked these students to identify a single act, one thing they could do to help someone. One single act of kindness. One small action. Our activity shows the Live Civilly "little men" saying, "My name is ____ and I can help by ___." So as they sat pondering their ONE action, I told them about an elementary school student who hit the nail right on the head. She said, "My name is Liz and I can help by sitting next to someone who is lonely."
Immediately, 100+ light bulbs went off. The responses I received from these eighth-graders ranged from "I can help by helping someone with homework" to "listening to someone who needs to talk," to "taking in someone who is homeless, because I have been in that situation." WOW—the power of ONE action.
So on this Valentine's Day, the Live Civilly challenge to our readers, is to do the same: Identify that ONE action—that ONE act that might seem small to you but might be HUGE to someone else. Perhaps it is not the dozen roses, or the tickets to a ball game, but an hour of your undivided attention someone close to you wants, or needs. Or maybe it's simply a hug? Or a gentle touch? A phone call to someone far away? Maybe it is giving in a little and realizing what we want may not be what is best for all people involved. A moment when time and schedules and imposed expectations stop and just "being" starts.
And imagine, if everyone conducted one small act, what would be the result? How far will that one act go? How long will the ripple effect last? How civilly can we live?
Happy Valentine's Day ... Peace ...