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A Desire for Change

Text by: Corey Janus

The subject of humanitarianism is a hot topic in our modern world. It is one that frequently comes up in conversation, usually in reference to human rights and current events. It will often include a discussion of humanitarian figures, such as Mother Theresa, Gandhi, or even Angelina Jolie, and may also include their efforts and impact on the world. It is my belief that these names have become so synonymous with humanitarianism because society tends to put the most-acknowledged humanitarians of this world high on pedestals. Though well-deserved, this placement has the negative effect of making humanitarian work seem almost unreachable to those who may not have the monetary or popular means of performing acts of service for mankind. While the prior examples are wonderful inspirations, they should not be used as a measure of defining what it means to be a humanitarian. What being a humanitarian really means is being a person who is willing to take care of their fellow man by giving of themselves through small and simple acts of service to better the lives of others.

It is also my belief that we as a society are too quick to complicate and compartmentalize everything around us; we mentally separate things that are really the same, making them seem confusing or unattainable. Such stereotyping creates many misconceptions in regard to humanitarianism. For example, if we equate humanitarianism with Mother Theresa's good works, then being a true humanitarian seems far too high a goal for us to reach. In reality, being a humanitarian can be as simple as donating food, clothing, or time, or it can be as involved as starting a non-profit organization. Despite what many believe (and preach), it is not about how much you sacrifice (though oftentimes sacrifice is involved). Being a humanitarian is not about achieving greatness, but about being an aware, active, and compassionate member of society.

My road to service began with one simple thought: my father always reiterated to me, "Treat others the way you would want to be treated." It was only after I left home that I realized how a simple idea could hold such great weight and limitless potential.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I wallowed in self-pity. I had been transplanted from Boston to a new city across the country with no job and few friends; attaining either seemed nearly impossible. I instantly judged people as cold and self-involved. It took some time (and chocolate) before I realized that I was acting just like the very people I was judging. After months of self-reflection, I hit a point where I was disappointed with my behavior and knew I had to make a change. It took some work, actually a lot of work, but I shed the negativity, replaced it with gratitude, and set a goal to start acting as a person that I could admire would act. I don't always achieve it perfectly, but that does not keep me from trying. I found that my mentality shifted, and I was suddenly aware of all the wonderful things that filled my days. I saw the possibilities of life instead of its assumed injustices.

© Amelia Lyons Photography

Because of my excitement, I wanted so badly to share my awakening with others, but sometimes talking to others on this subject makes me seem preachy or self-righteous. So, I started small. I began smiling at people, saying "Hello" to strangers, and holding doors open for others. I was taken aback when people were receptive and actually showed reciprocity. And to those who didn't, I tried to be even nicer. I began viewing my place in the world differently, and after awhile I wanted to do more. I figured if my positive attitude was affecting my daily interactions then I could do the same on a larger scale. I decided to give back to my community with some of my free time.

At this point, I had my mind set on volunteering, but I didn't know who, what, or where to begin. So to start, I did what I always do when I embark on a journey— I scoured the Internet and looked for a cause that interested me or touched me. First, I researched organizations that I personally believed in, and then moved on to organizations that would fit within my schedule. After some failures, I found what turned out to be my perfect organization, a soup kitchen. I have now spent one day a week for almost two years working a food line in Hollywood, California. Some weeks I cannot make it and some weeks I stay longer, so it all balances out. They understand how hectic life can be and are grateful for any help they receive (assuming you are also respectful of their time and efforts). Giving back to my community was easy and effortless. I realized this after only one day of helping in the food line.

I hope for a world where people understand how easy it is to serve others, that it is effortless, and that it is through small efforts that we can do more for one another. I am not so idealistic as to think that a happy world is just a smile away, but a smile is a start. It is also my wish to share with people the idea that being a humanitarian is not about sainthood or glory for those who give service, but rather about living with compassion in our everyday lives. I found a path that has worked for me, and I hope that others can soon find their own.

I am asked frequently, "How do I start?" There are no set rules about how to treat one another, but I know how I want to be treated, and that is the best guide I have. Humanitarianism IS attainable and limitless. My suggestion is always this— first find happiness in your own life. I was wisely told that you cannot be compassionate towards others if you don't love yourself first. Project that happiness outward, and uplift others through your own light. Then look into ways to give back to your community. Giving through service opens your own heart. It is a gift for both you and the people you are helping. When will you start your own service to humanity?