For years now I’ve listened to people say that they want to make a difference, to help others in need, to be the change they want to see in the world. Sometimes burnt-out travelers told me this in bars, other times I was being paid to sell volunteer programs to bright-eyed students, but no matter the situation the problem was the always same: the idea of contributing to a worthy cause seemed impossible, as if the fact that suffering and poverty and injustice will always exist is an excuse to surrender without taking that first step forward.
From these conversations I’ve noticed that certain words like “volunteering” or “charity” or even the verb ‘helping’ in action form are met with a healthy dose of skepticism. Some skeptics advise against such idealism, emphasizing that naivety does not pay the bills. Others nod politely, even sympathetically, when these ideas come into conversation, but soon let their voice of reason remind the bleeding hearts that “helping people” is just a resume builder during college, three cans of beans at the annual food drive for the homeless, a two-year Peace Corp stint at most, not a lifestyle worth pursing, and definitely not a pursuit from which you can squeeze any tangible results.
The desire to “help others” is met with skepticism because people associate it with the sham Beauty Pageant definition of “saving the world,” which even with the Swimsuit Competition seems a vague and thankless hobby, like collecting sand. In most minds, humanitarianism has to be a dramatic, all-sweeping, all-consuming World Peace and Cure for Cancer—or nothing at all; a personal sacrifice that means the end of normal life and the beginning of selfless service as a diapered Gandhi or Mother Teresa slopping oatmeal into the tin cups of orphans, the saintly glow of a halo the only light in some dark, off-the-grid slum.
Team MB&S would like to remind the public this doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, always setting sights on the North Star of unprecedented generosity may be counterproductive. Here’s the truth: small actions can have big impacts, like a rain drop rippling a pond. You don’t have to renounce your American reality to build houses in Mongolia, negotiate peace in the Middle East, write a book on civil disobedience, or feed orphans in India in order to help others. Save your Gandhi diaper and Mother Teresa halo for Halloween.
Humanitarianism is more straightforward than we’ve been led to believe. When stripped of marketing campaigns that turn every African child into a five-dollar-a-month charity case (photo included), when removed from the context of some malaria-infested country whose capital no one knows, when boiled down to the essential, humanitarianism simply means being concerned with the welfare of the human race, or simpler still: being nice to others.
Since some problems (most in the United States) have nothing to do with starving stomachs and everything to do with alienated minds, Team MB&S would like to emphasize that both a “physical” and “spiritual” concern for others must be present in any effective humanitarian act. Our solution that sounds like a joke but is offered in all seriousness has exactly that in mind….
Help people with a smile.
Science has proven that people who smile are happier; those around them are happier too. Happy people are more optimist and exercise regularly. Since happy people are more active, it’s likely they’ll smile at more people, thus making others happier, so on and so forth in avalanches and pandemics of joy that will spill into physical acts of kindness. Since this contagious smile fulfills both the physical and spiritual elements needed to watchdog the happiness of the human race, Team MB&S is officially sponsoring it—and all its 52 odd muscle variables—as the primary answer to the question: how to can I help others?
Random compliments, words of encouragement, displays of affection, and sincere shows of solidarity with people who are down and out also have similar transformative powers on the human race, because when your neighbor is a friend you’re more likely to help him in times of need and vice versa. Though questionable political and economic theories, the Domino Effect and Trickle Down Theory are very real when it comes to spreading the love.
By adjusting your focus off the incomprehensible suffering of the larger world and onto the very real person next to you who breathes the same humanity, you tap into a powerful current that makes “helping others” not only seem possible but universally correct. Borders of all kinds become the silly human inventions they truly are; societal labels lose all meaning; and that hippy Jesus guy starts to make sense. Everywhere you’ll begin to see opportunities for service that add a purpose to your life that falls outside the tired constraints of dogma and religion.
It all starts with a smile.
The photos interspersed throughout this post come from the Favela Painting project. Team MB&S have highlighted them on this blog because they are the direct result of believing that simple actions can have profound effects.
Painting a house hardly saves the world. However, painting an entire favela—a Brazilian slum common to big cities like Rio de Janiero—sets off an chain of events that are undeniably positive, including the creation of millions of smiles worldwide, employment for residents, awareness about the inequality in Brazilian society, community pride, and an example that could potentially save the neighborhood youth from gang violence by showing them that anything is possible.
It all starts with paint.
Team MB&S is so impressed with the Favela Painting project that we plan to contact the organization when in Rio de Janiero to see if we can volunteer. Should you also consider this a worthwhile enterprise Favela Painting accepts donations here.