What are some things that a person can do to directly impact their community in a positive way? For a regular person with no special amount of influence, is there a single area that will have a higher value-to-time ratio?
I suppose it depends on both the community and the person, of course, but I'd like to know what you think. No snarky partisan answers if you can help it please, on this one!
P.S. The following is just a (very lengthy) personal anecdote. If you read and respond to one part of this, please let it be the above...
(Side note: I first thought of this last year, when I was working at a bank. It was an entry-level job, essentially, i.e. I was not important. Anyway, one day I get off work and I drive home the same way I do every day. I stop at a gas station I've been to a million times to get a drink. Inside, there's an unshaven, unkempt homeless guy -- gregarious guy, you know -- kind of making chit-chat with me as I wait in line. It comes time to check out and I realize I've left my wallet in the car. "Hold on, I forgot my wallet, let me run out and get it," I say. Then the homeless guy grows sullen and angry, and mumbles something like "_Suuure_ you will...banker doesn't have a wallet, he says. He's gone."
And that really pissed me off. Initially because it was sort of unclear, convoluted logic that I couldn't understand outside the context of a joke, but also because I hadn't done anything to him! I had been perfectly nice and jovial the entire 20 seconds we stood next to each other. Did he think I was running away from him? I got my wallet, came back in, paid for the drink, and left without a word. But it made me ask myself just what I had to do to prove to a person like that that I didn't somehow despise him. Or in other words, what would it take for him not to despise me? Not even me really, just some nameless, faceless person in a suit? But at the time that person was me, and I had an almost vengeful, instinctual feeling when I got back in my car that the best way to show him how wrong he was was to engulf myself in that struggling community. Advocate for better schools, help create or improve a park; give effort where effort was needed; leave a legacy of genuine giving and caring. And if everything else evened out, it would have been more than worth it if that poor man learned not to judge a perfectly kind stranger as a crook or a good-for-nothing or this thing or that thing solely because of their appearance.
Now I'm no dramatic and I usually don't go on endlessly like this, but I have to say one more thing. I just realized that in some ways this is the exact message of MLK. MLK argued: "Let's show them that we are not a lesser people. We are peaceful, we can end race warfare by disobeying immoral, racist laws in a peaceful manner," and in doing so, the Civil Rights movement forced white america realize that it was white america itself who had -- shall we say, euphemistically -- "erred."
My situation at the gas station shows the emotions and perceived inequities in a class war. And as I see it it has only one solution. Those with the money or the resources or the time, who genuinely want to help, can go into poorer communities and offer assistance. How would your community be better? Are the hospitals OK? Schools, parks, after school learning programs, habitat for humanity work, etc. These are all things we can do to show we truly care about other humans, regardless of their dress, religion, race, or economic situation.)