9 Things We Could Do Better

Sure, we all want to end poverty and cure cancer, but there are smaller issues that we can more easily address that could have a huge impact on daily life.

Sometimes, the enormity of tackling huge problems—like ending poverty, war, climate change, and cancer—overwhelms us, and even shut us down. When one more email urging you to sign a petition and one more depressing article about how the world is simply melting away has you reduced to a puddle, consider a new approach to dealing with your modern day despair. Shift your focus. Turn your attention to the smaller, simpler improvements that could streamline modern life, complete with modern problems.

We could begin with these:

1. A recent article about underwear that absorbs menstrual blood—washable and reusable—called THINX noted that no advances in feminine hygiene products have been made since the 1930s in a $15 billion industry. This is a global issue: Menstruation is one of the key reasons women can’t attain an education in many parts of the world (how do you go to school if you’re bleeding?). First, please fast-track THINX. And then, make more improvements for feminine hygiene.

2. Talk less, listen more.

3. Take the money used to keep people in prisons and invest those dollars to ensure people can house and feed themselves, and to provide anyone in need with adequate funds for mental health care. Caring for people rather than punishing them is cost effective—and makes the world better.

4. Agree to disagree—for real.

5. Nametags at school events for more than the first parents’ night of the school year would help everyone out.

6. Consider obesity in less judgmental and more comprehensive terms, and put actual food stores in “supermarket ghettos.” Make all neighborhoods safer so kids can play and everyone can walk. These two things—access to healthy foods and places to play and move—would do more for obesity than all of Michelle Obama’s awesome Uptown Funk efforts combined. And then, of course, dance along with that video—it’s awesome.

7. Compel health insurance companies to actually pay for health care services.

8. Practice sustainability’s low hanging fruit—expand programs that encourage bike sharing and bag sharing. Have a clothing swap. Create more bike lanes, and more sidewalks. Carpool.

9. A common surgical technique for breast reconstruction after mastectomies requires the woman’s own belly fat be used. Women do not generally possess enough fat to reconstruct both breasts. Improve this surgery so that women can donate their excess belly fat to those in need: Belly Fat for Boobs can become Locks of Love 2.0.

This is not a comprehensive list by any means.

A few years ago I found myself by the bulk bins at our local co-op with my toddler daughter. She abandoned her little red shopping cart to lift every lid where the chocolate treats waited, seemingly just for her. She wanted to put her sticky, germy little fingers into each bin and reach for some treats. “No,” I told her and picked her up. I put her down. Repeat scene. I picked her up again and sat her in my big cart. I didn’t raise my voice and I repeated, “No.” I explained hands aren’t for the bins.

A woman with scoop and bag stood nearby making her selections in the bulk section. As my daughter and I tried again to push our carts, this time without little hands in bins, I heard, “Good job, Mom,” from the woman. She smiled when I turned toward her. Surprised by how good those words felt, I thanked her and hightailed it away from the bins of chocolate.

My tiny epiphany that day: Parents with young kids require more support, and one way that support comes can be as simple as three words—“Good job, Mom.” I felt like she was saying: I get that it’s sometimes rather trying, monotonous, and doesn’t feel cute or precious all the time. I acknowledge your efforts, and applaud the unsung parts that are the basis of most days. Now, I remember to offer a few kind words and an empathetic smile to other parents. I’m not going to resolve any of the big-ticket problems like this, but I might make someone’s day better.

So what if you choose your thing—and not in a bumper sticker obnoxious slogan approach like Practice Random Acts of Kindness—and watch what happens? You might change the world a teeny-tiny bit. Or you, too, might just make someone’s day better.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser’s work has appeared in the New York Times, on Salon, Full Grown People and Brain, Child Magazine amongst others. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

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