Social Question

zweinz's avatar

How do you know that everyday actions matter?

Asked by zweinz (63points) June 21st, 2010

The hypothesis:
People care about the problems of the world. They turn off the lights, they donate $10 to Kiva, they recycle, they write a letter to their representative, etc. But without social or emotional feedback for these actions, in the long run they feel like their everyday efforts don’t have any impact.

The question:
How (if at all) do you know that your micro-efforts (whatever they may be) are impactful? For example: is it a thank you from a friend or a reduction on your energy bill?

Other thoughts on the hypothesis are very welcome!

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

33 Answers

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

I don’t.:)
My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was less competition there. ~Indira Gandhi

cookieman's avatar

I don’t.
I do things because I feel they’re the right things to do, they’re convenient or they save me money. If all goes well, all of the above.

Kayak8's avatar

Although doing incremental good may comprise the impetus to begin new habits, over time habit-strength itself allows me to continue to do the things that I think are beneficial (however small). Once something has become a good habit, I do derive a sense of satisfaction from participating (recycling, rain barrel, compost pile, etc.) and, over time, I too see the benefits (I have been to the land fill, I use the water from the rain barrel, I have compost to plant flowers).

josie's avatar

Doing good simply means doing what is needed to survive and thrive another day. In a social context, that would include acknowledging the fact that everybody else is doing the same thing, and you should not interfere. Giving to charity makes us feel valuable and important by itself. No need for recognition there. As you said, turning off the lights reduces your bills, so that is positive reward enough. The need for recognition is something altogether different. I suggest going into the theatre, or politics if you want recognition.

CMaz's avatar

By hearing and seeing, social or emotional feedback.

BoBo1946's avatar

we all do our part! it’s a team effort! and, it matters!

MarthaStewart's avatar

Many people did really small things during the Obama campaign: Sending $10, friending him in Myspace, and saw him get elected. You don’t have to like Obama to realize that is a good example of the cumulative effect of millions of small actions. Now if the same people would just plant a tree, turn off their lights and bike to work….

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Sometimes, you just have to know in your heart your helping out. For example, If you have ever helped anyone in a really bad situation, like an auto accident, crime scene, etc, 99 percent of the time you’re not going to get the thanks after the fact. It’s too tough for the victims to revisit the scene. But look into their eyes during the situation. All the thanks you’ll ever need to know you made a difference. Other little things you just know you’re doing the right thing. That should be good enough.

bunnygrl's avatar

No man (or woman) is an island, except when they’re in the bath :-) so I do believe that every action we take, or don’t take, impacts on somebody even if its only yourself. I live my life by a set of morals gifted me by a very wise wonderful woman who taught me right from wrong, and always to be mindful never to cause anyone hurt or upset. I do my best at work to do more than I’m expected to, to help my customers. Do management appreciate it? do I get a thanks from them? well, no, but I do from my customers every now and again. I have regulars who are willing to wait in a queue to be served by me, and a few of them even bring in pics of their grandchildren every now and again, like when they’ve had a party or even if they just tell me about their day. That makes my job worth turning up for, and if I’m honest it makes my day so much brighter too, especially if I haven’t been feeling all that great that day. My Ladies and Gentlemen who take time to notice I’m more than a uniform. So, to answer your question, I hope that silly little things like giving strangers a huge smile (and meaning it) makes a difference, and even if sometimes it doesn’t, maybe it will to someone else, so I’ll keep doing it.
hugs xx

bunnygrl's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe well said honey and GA <hugs> xx

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

Call me strange…but I get a kick out of anonymous giving or giving to individuals anonymously and seeing their happiness makes me happy. Sometimes I don’t see their happiness, but in my heart, “I know”.

You don’t have to do great things or give money either, charity extends to people you encounter every day——opening a door for someone, smiling and saying, “Good Morning” on the street, allowing a car to go past you in a parking lot (things that I took for granted in the US) are met with surprise here across the pond. I always talk to people at the till at shops and thank them for the work they do. No one even looks at them and they are sitting checking groceries all day. I leave nice tips especially if the attendant has been gracious. Making a difference doesn’t necessarily mean having to go online to find someone to give your money away to….you can give of yourself in tiny ways that still make a difference.

It’s giving to people that I know and are really disrespectful and rude and take me for granted that is the problem. I am attempting to come to grips with a personal situation at the moment that involves this.

I don’t give where I can’t see it go directly to help someone. I don’t give to UNICEF because I have no idea who is benefiting or if my money is going to pay for another corporate jet with a huge carbon footprint for more celebrities to go visit Africa…but I will donate to a smaller organization that works in similar countries where there is not some huge bureaucratic dinosaur like the United Nations in charge. I want my money to go directly to the people who need it. I don’t want my bag of rice sitting on a tarmac and then thrown away because of red tape that was never unravelled.

If you pick your organizations/people with care…and use your intuition to guide you…you will find where to give…and know in your heart that you made a difference. That’s enough, really.

graynett's avatar

No.21 of the universal benefit states that for every bit of good you do for your-self or others the world is improved by that bit.

Fyrius's avatar

I think you’re on to something. I can’t tell whether what I do really makes the world a better place.

I do think this is a bad thing, not because I want credit, but because if you can’t tell what’s the effect of your philanthropy, you might actually not be helping at all, or helping less than you could for the same money. Feedback is important if you want to optimise your influence.

I’ve been told there are problems in the world that can’t be solved by throwing money at them. Sometimes it even makes the situation worse.

bunnygrl's avatar

@DarlingRhadamanthus you are a truly lovely person <hugs> and believe me, your smile or even a little thank you means so much more than you can imagine to that checkout operator <hugs> xx

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@bunnygrl Just to let you know, you made my day. Very nice. Here’s a hug back.

bunnygrl's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe thats so sweet!! well you made a difference for me today honey thank you, thats such a nice thing to say, thank you <hugs> xx

Seaofclouds's avatar

I just look at the small signs that what I’m doing helps. I look at the amount of stuff I’m recycling and I know that it is that much less stuff that’s going to a landfill to sit for years. When I buy products that are made from recycled materials, I know that I’m helping reuse stuff so that it doesn’t end up in a landfill. When I turn off lights and try to maintain a certain temperature on the thermostat, I see the difference on our utility bill. When I ride with other people or walk to different places, I spend less money on gas. For things that I don’t get to see the positives, I remind myself that I tried my best to do something good and that is the reward in itself.

MissA's avatar

Look around you here on fluther. This is part of what’s right with the world.

With the exception of political and celebrity figures…in the end, you are remembered not for your beauty, intelligence and other fine attributes. You are remembered for how you made others’ feel. Yes. it’s as simple as that.

wundayatta's avatar

You can never know. It’s a matter of belief. It makes sense that if enough people do the same thing for the same purpose, that purpose is much more likely to be achieved.

eden2eve's avatar

I turn it around and look at how another’s actions affect me. I try to notice and express gratitude for the small, or enormous, things others do to make my life better. Because I make a determined effort to notice, that’s how I know that everyday actions matter.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@bunnygrl…..Thank you and hugs to you, too!! I glanced through the list and did not see your response till later….I am glad that it _does_make a difference how people are to you when you are at work. I’ve worked all sorts of jobs so I appreciate that sort of kindness, too. I am glad that people wait to stand in your queue——that’s really great! You must truly give them happiness in return.

Lurve coming to you and @Adirondackwannabe….....oh, heck…everyone can do with some lurve, right? So, here it comes if you answered @zweinz query!

(((((((((((((((((((((((and hugs, too)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

___This has turned into a lovefest.___

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

Also….don’t forget….The Butterfly Effect….

This idea posited by quantum mechanics/chaos theory that a small action, even the wings of a butterfly can effect a large atmospheric change…any small gesture, even though we do not see immediate effects do and can change the world. So, @zweinz…just know that you _are_making a difference. Just asking this question, made a difference!

Wiki’s condensed explanation of “The Butterfly Effect”:

The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in a certain location. The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale alterations of events (compare: domino effect). Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different. While the butterfly does not “cause” the tornado in the sense of providing the energy for the tornado, it does “cause” it in the sense that the flap of its wings is an essential part of the initial conditions resulting in a tornado, and without that flap that particular tornado would not have existed.

wundayatta's avatar

The Butterfly Effect depends on a lot of things going your way. The chances are nearly nil of having the desired impact. I’d much rather depend on the work of a lot of people than to take my chances on butterflies.

cookieman's avatar

^^ ironic, no? ^^

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@wundayatta…...Everything is dependent on things “going your way” so to speak. All I was saying is that one person’s consciousness to do something right and good will affect the collective. It always has. Lots of people…starts with one person. MLK had a dream that eventually (and it took a long while granted) gave us the current President. His dream gave way to monumental changes.

What if he had said, “Oh, yeah…well, what’s the point? I have to depend on all things going my way first. And it doesn’t look like a lot of people are interested in what I am doing, so, I’ll go have a sandwich, instead.”

MLK flapped his wings…and he did it loudly…and he changed the course of history. That’s what I am talking about.

Never, ever, ever discount the power of one person. Ever.

wundayatta's avatar

@DarlingRhadamanthus There’s a whole lot of difference between “micro-efforts” and MLK. It sounded to me like you were saying that micro-efforts could make the difference on a global scale.

I totally agree that if you want to make a difference, you devote your whole life to it. Even then, you may not make any difference. I worked on health care reform for eight years long before it became popular. Nothing happened. I stopped working on it. Eight years later, something happened in a major way. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but I’m pretty sure that my efforts were a waste of time. The health reform would have happened with or without me.

I did what I did because I believed in it and I found a job that allowed me to do that work and earn a living at the same time. It would have been nice to make change, too. And I’m sure someone will say that what I did did make a difference, but there’s no way of knowing. It’s not like you’re building a house that you can live in before the hurricane washes it away. In my work, the hurricane came before the house got built, and there was no sign of human activity at all.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@wundayatta You may or may not have helped health care but you still made a lot of people happy.
Your 30k lurve is proof. ;-)

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@wundayatta…..I still believe…what I believe and I stick to what I believe. You are welcome to disagree with me and that’s okay.

Having said that….

I will choose to believe that because of your passion and despite your protestations that what you did was for naught, I think that what you did made a huge difference.

And you know what? Thank you for giving of your time in such an incredible way. I am sending you lurve.

Scooby's avatar


I tend to agree with your gramps too!! :-/

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

I feel better if I don’t get credit for what I do. I know that what I’ve done has improved things; attention is an annoyance I can live without. Getting credit for good works also creates an internal conflict; are you doing something because it’s right or in order to look good? Anonymity eliminates that conflict.

MissA's avatar

I don’t think credit is what @wundayatta was seeking. She wanted the satisfaction of ‘knowing’ her work brought about change. Seeking credit is a whole other subject…one in which I do agree with you. Absolutely.

wundayatta's avatar

@MissA Yes. I don’t want to believe that I was wasting my time. I want to believe I made a significant difference. The reward is seeing that a lot of people are better off—healthier, in this case, and at less cost. My hope for sites like this one is that the information generated will help people solve problems in their lives and enable them to live more “fully,” whatever that means.

As to credit—I do think that plays an important role, too. It depends on what you want to do, but if you want to help people, then it matters whether you are helping or not. If I am helping, then receiving credit tells me that’s what is going on. If I never received credit, I wouldn’t know (which is the way it has been most of my life) and I get dispirited and quit, as I did with health care reform. Had I been able to see I was making a difference, I might have stayed with it.

Equally important as credit is criticism. If I’m doing something wrong, I want to know that, too. This lets me choose to change. Criticism is not so easy to hear, but then I’ve had problems with credit, too. I’d rather just get feedback, with no judgment attached one way or the other. Is this working or isn’t it? I need to know when I’ve made a mistake so I can learn from it. Sometimes mistakes are obvious and no one needs to point them out. Sometimes they are most subtle, and that’s where non-judgmental feedback can be really helpful.

mattbrowne's avatar

Think big. Start small.

It changes the world. Every action matters. Every vote matters.

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