I received a letter from Regina, a 14-year-old who - like most of us - wants to "make a difference" about crime, about homelessness, about the pain she sees around her. Like many of us, she feels overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems she sees. So she just goes about her business, goes to school, spends time with her friends. And feels guilty because she isn't doing anything more.
She asked if I had any ideas. I thought you might find the suggestions I've given Regina useful.First, decide on a specific area that you would like to change, such as preventing crime. Ask and answer two questions about it: "What can I control?" and "What can I influence?" What's left is the area that we can't do anything about, the place where stuff just happens. While that area is huge, you'll be surprised by what you can do to make a difference.
Little things count . . . and that might mean giving back extra change a cashier gives you, taking a hair clip you found in the gym locker room to Lost and Found, being honest with your parents when they ask what you are doing. I call it taking responsibility for ethical behavior.
You may ask, "How can giving a hair clip to Lost and Found stop crime?" That's simple: You never know how your actions affect others. That hairclip might be the last present a girl received from her grandmother before her grandmother died. Getting it back might mean she later turns in a wallet that she finds. The person who gets the wallet back may have his faith in teens reaffirmed and hire one at his business. That job may mean a kid doesn't help a friend steal a car.
In other words, you never know the chain of events your actions set in place.
Next, look at what you can influence. If you see someone who looks suspicious in a parking lot, do you call the police? If a friend shoplifts, do you ignore it or tell her how you feel about it? You'd be surprised when you stop to think about it how big your area of influence really is. You can influence your families, friends, classmates, teachers, kids you babysit for.
And you can increase the size of your circle of influence.
You might choose to volunteer some of your time with younger kids at a park program. You might tell a police officer how much you appreciate what he or she does. Or suggest to your parents that they go to city council meetings when crime prevention is discussed. The list is almost endless.