The Me to We philosophy is grounded in only one habit. Some may call it a step forward in thinking, presenting a fresh and dynamic way of looking at the world. Others might see it as a step backward, a return to the simplest, purest and most basic impulse of humanity: to reach out to each other for survival. From either perspective, this philosophy presents a change in focus – a shift from the inside out – and the redefinition of meaning, success, happiness and community.
How reaching out to others can be a good place to start
While some of the self-help books on the market allot a chapter to the importance of reaching out to others, volunteering in the community or helping a loved one, it is often the last chapter, the final stage in the evolution of the better self. But this model is flawed because many people have a hard time reaching the perceived level of perfection needed to qualify for that final stage. Improving ourselves is not necessarily a prerequisite to reaching out, but rather a result of that experience.
So how do we live a life filled with meaning and purpose? Where do we find true happiness? We find it in the power of "we." Happiness is not a solitary pursuit. It is not just about us. It is about us in relationship with others and the world. The surest way to find real happiness is to cultivate relationships and to reach out to our community – on all levels of our daily existence.
In the choices we make, the way we treat people and the way we spend our time and resources, moving from Me to We helps to revive such key human values as compassion, equality and responsibility. It is a litmus test that we can use when confronted with life's decisions: How will the choice I am making in my life affect our family? Our community? Our nation? Our world? We learn that opening ourselves to others does not cause us to lose time, money or energy, but rather to gain a higher quality of life. The Me to We philosophy provides a tangible way of improving our family bonds and communities and of building a more just society for all people. By coming together, we fulfil both our collective and our personal potential. In short, by helping others, we help ourselves.
We can begin the movement from Me to We by taking small or large actions in our home, in our workplace, within our faith group, within our community and among all of us, including our young people. The key to the equation is action – making decisions and acting in the mind-set of "we."
Page 1 of 5 – How to start the change at home and at work on page 2.
Beginning at home
A better world begins at home. The Me to We movement can take root in simple actions that we do every day among the people dear to us. If we don't like the direction in which society is moving, we have to recognize that we are setting its course with the lessons we teach our children. Society is something that we create, and we have the ability to change it.
Some suggestions might be to schedule specific nights during the week when the whole family has dinner together with the television off (make this as much of a priority as the 9 a.m. staff meeting). Spend time volunteering as a family at a local food bank or a soup kitchen; a group home for the handicapped; an immigration centre helping new immigrants to learn English; a conservation area; a local arts, music or historical society; or a political campaign centre. We can guarantee that this will bring your family closer together.
Discuss current events and important social issues and what you can do to help. Have fun together. Go hiking, bike riding or jogging. Create greater intergenerational connections; children can interview their grandparents about their early lives, and they can make a book about it together or research their family tree. The list goes on. If families turned the television off more often and spent time together, not only would we have stronger family bonds but also more vital communities.
In the workplace
Incorporating the Me to We philosophy into the workplace is a question of daily choices and actions. Look for a need and respond to it, and make decisions that consider the perspectives of other people. Some suggestions might include: becoming genuinely interested in the people you work with not only as colleagues but also as friends; inviting someone sitting alone to join you for lunch; or celebrating special events and the accomplishments of team members. Technology can be used for connecting with others by posting a calendar of volunteer events, e-mailing out action campaigns to your coworkers or electronically organizing the office staff to participate in fund-raisers, such as dress-down days or walkathons. You can invite social-service organizations in the community to come to the workplace and speak about available volunteer opportunities.
Companies can also use their professional skills to do pro bono work in the community, arrange for a percentage of your monthly paycheque to be automatically designated as a charitable donation and ensure that their business and personal ethics are always aligned.
Page 2 of 5 – How to include faith in the Me to We philosophy on page 3.
In your community
Do you make a point of getting to know your neighbours? Or the people who work in the businesses and shops in your area? One of the best ways to build these links and friendships is by joining or starting a community association. By building community associations we create the connections that allow us to share our common concerns and to work and live together in a more caring environment, giving rise to the movement from Me to We.
There are countless ways to launch the movement from Me to We in your community. Possibly, you belong to a book club that comes together once a month to choose a book to read and then discuss its message. One suggestion might be to use the book-club model to start a Me to We club in which you and a group of friends meet once a month and "adopt an action." The action can be as simple as making a conscious effort to indulge in simple gestures, such as holding doors open for people, being a courteous driver and greeting people with a friendly smile. Some groups personally welcome newcomers into the area, organize their communities to participate in a car-free day, a cleanup event or a neighbourhood garage sale for a charitable cause.
You can choose to volunteer at the local library, animal shelter or hospital, or join the parent-teacher council at your child's school. People are always needed to hand out brochures and man the telephones to promote a community fund-raiser, or, instead of founding a new club, as an individual, you can participate in a political campaign or circulate a petition on an issue you care about.
Imagine the potential of bringing this model to other service clubs or religious groups in your community and challenging them to take action on a common issue, or encouraging entire cities to adopt specific actions to build greater community spirit. Imagine how many people could be inspired and rallied to one cause, and the incredible force that would create.
In your faith group
The Me to We movement has a natural home among religious groups and organizations. One of the greatest rewards of helping others is finding purpose and meaning in our lives, something that is integral to our personal understanding of faith. Helping others leads us to rediscover our connection to the world, and that may be in a spiritual or religious sense.
When people of different faiths work together, they are united by their similarities and can celebrate their differences. Joint actions of religious groups might include campaigns to improve their neighbourhoods, tackling issues such as racism or youth violence, taking part in activities to help the homeless members of the community or the elderly who live alone, or participating in social action campaigns.
Page 3 of 5 – How to engage kids and young adults on page 4.
Engaging young people
Today, because of media and technology, children and youth are more aware of social, environmental and political issues than ever before. However, our culture still views youths as adults in waiting. Young people need to recognize that they are not only called upon to be the leaders of tomorrow [but] they must also be the leaders of today – in their communities and their world. They may not be able to vote, but they can bring about change, as they have strong and determined voices, limitless energy and enthusiasm, and a firm belief that much of their ideal world is within reach.
Adults can nurture the development of this new "we" generation of youth in many ways. Support and encourage the young people in your life to become active members of their community [by] helping others, volunteering and participating in social issues. All groups have a role in this process.
Families can foster a sense of compassion from the earliest years; schools can support character education and service learning initiatives; and faith groups can establish volunteer programs to help youths live their beliefs. Young people should be encouraged to discuss the issues and problems that surround them rather than be sheltered from the big, bad world (trust us, they already know about it).
Most young people want to help, but they don't know how. Often they need mentors, advisers – someone to give them a friendly nudge. If your daughter is always getting caught writing notes to her friends at school, encourage her to use her skills to pen a letter to the prime minister about a social issue she cares about. Always on the phone? Suggest volunteering with a help line. Obsessed with basketball? Why not propose organizing a charity basketball tournament? Help young people to seek out their natural skills and talents, nurture them, and open up doors to use them to create a better world.
Page 4 of 5 – Discover key areas that inspire many people to change their lifestyle on page 5.
Addressing root causes
As we've seen, the smallest actions can make a big difference in the lives of the people you meet. Each of these actions is crucial to building a better world. Yet, as you reach out to others and volunteer, you may begin to ask yourself questions. You will wonder, 'Why does a particular problem exist?' and seek the underlying structural causes behind it. Maybe there would be less litter in the park if people generated less garbage or if it was possible to return some of the packaging for refunds as we do in the case of beer bottles. Maybe there would be fewer smog warnings if more of us took public transit.
You may find that the basic problem lies in government policies or corporate business practices. In both cases you have two fundamental tools: a vote and a voice. Throughout history millions have died in revolutions, wars and civil rights struggles for democracy. Today, millions more are affected by issues rooted in political choices – people living in poverty, facing discrimination and struggling without a voice.
One of the easiest and most powerful tools to influence systemic change and address root causes is our democratic right and responsibility to vote. As Edmund Burke once said: "All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
As you realize how easy it is and how good it feels to share your gifts and talents, your actions will strengthen your own resolve as an ambassador for this movement. Each time you think in the mind-set of "we" and choose to act accordingly, you will inspire others to follow your example. All it takes is one person to stand up, act as a catalyst and light the spark to inspire others who agree that change is needed but who are hesitant to come forward to start the chain of events themselves. Once the first person acts, the rest are often emboldened to follow.
For more information, visit metowe.org
Excerpted from Me to We: Turning Self-Help On Its Head by Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger. Copyright 2004 by Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger. Excerpted, with permission by John Wiley & Sons. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.Page 5 of 5