Reach Out to Others - Fourteen Ways to Warm Your World
By Cynthia MacGregor / November, December 2012

In many respects, modern technology is amazing, though sometimes it can be amazingly annoying. I'm thinking of instances such as when your call waiting goes off and you put an important phone call on hold only to find yourself the recipient of a recorded sales solicitation. For the most part, though, there are few of us who would choose to go back to the way things were twenty or forty years ago. And yet...and yet... (Isn't there always an "and yet"?)

In the "olden days," there was more person-to-person contact. In times past, people knew more of their neighbors. The modern world, for all its wonders can sometimes seem a bit cold. But there are ways you can warm it up.

The next time you're seething at a telephone menu that demands you press 1 for this and 2 for that but doesn't seem to offer an option to connect with a human being; the next time you feel like you're only an account number to your banker, who has forgotten you are primarily a person; the next time you realize you don't know the hair color of three of your closest friends because you've never met them "f2f" (face-to-face), stop and take an antidote. Or, rather, give an antidote.

I have some suggestions:

1 - Is there someone who has been a particularly good neighbor to you? It could be a woman, man, or couple. This person or people have taken in your mail while you're away, trimmed your rosebushes for you, picked your bike-bruised eight-year-old off the sidewalk and soothed her tears with cookies, or helped you search when your dog was missing.

Do you have the nagging feeling you'd like to do something more concrete than simply repeating, "Thank you!" . . . if only you had the opportunity? Bake her a cake or pie and say, "Thank you for being such a good neighbor." Perhaps include a pound of gourmet coffee, too. If baking's not your thing, bring her a casserole, so she can take a night off in the kitchen.

2 - Teach a child -- yours, a neighbor's, a friend's -- a fun game from your childhood that isn't well known anymore, or a jump-rope rhyme she has never heard. When is the last time you saw a hopscotch board chalked on the sidewalk? How many of the kids you talk to seem to know nothing about games for which batteries or a computer aren't essential?

3 - The next time you're cooking one of your better recipes, make double the amount and give the other half to an overworked or harried friend. Consider freezing the food before you give it to him or her, so it can be saved for use when it's most convenient. Your friend will appreciate being able to skip cooking one night while still serving a savory, home-cooked meal.

4 - Write a letter to your best friend -- even if she lives right next door -- and tell her exactly why you appreciate her, why you are glad she's your friend, and just what her best qualities are. She'll not only treasure it when she gets it, but, by having it in writing, she'll be able to put it away for re-reading some day when she needs a lift. We all need that kind of boost from time to time, even the most self-assured among us.

5 - The next time you're going to the store, offer a ride to a car-less neighbor.

6 - Got a neighbor with two or three little kids, someone who can't easily run to the store every time she needs a few things? The next time you're headed to the supermarket, call her up and offer to pick up a few items for her.

7 - Write a long, chatty letter to a distant friend. Reminisce about times past. Catch her up on your life in the present. Ask about her life. Remind her of the fun and funny times you shared together. Invite her for a visit, if that's possible.

8 - Keep a lollipop box by the front door and tell all the kids on the block. (If your conscience goads you about sweets, substitute raisins or other fruit treats, instead.)

9 - Treat yourself and a friend to a day at the zoo -- without the kids or grandkids. Don't skip the petting zoo, either. Look at the animals through eyes of wonder and don't forget to pet those baby goats or llamas.

10 - Make a top ten list for your spouse and another for each of your kids (and that includes grown kids!). List the top ten reasons you love each of them and wouldn't trade them for a bazillion dollars.

11 - Visit a new neighbor and offer to show her around the neighborhood. Tell her where you suggest she shop, which is, in your opinion, the best supermarket, and why, as well as the best dry cleaners, the best bank, and so forth. (But if she elects to shop elsewhere, don't be hurt or miffed that she didn't take your advice.) Tell her who the extra-nice people are in the neighborhood, but keep your negative opinions of other neighbors to yourself.

12 - At Halloween, dress in costume to answer the door to trick-or-treaters. Dispense sweets to the visiting mini-monsters while wearing your own gruesome get-up. Or choose a less fearsome outfit and dress as a fairy godmother, appropriate for your role as a goodie-giver. The kids will have fun seeing a costumed grown-up.

13 - Join your local FreeCycle group ( This wonderful organization focuses on helping our earth by keeping stuff out of landfills and putting it, instead, in the hands of your neighbors who can use it. You can get good stuff for yourself on FreeCycle, too, but FreeCycle is more about giving than getting, and mostly about getting rid of stuff responsibly in a way that doesn't contribute to those mounds of garbage every area has.

Once you've become a member of FreeCycle, go through your house ruthlessly, clearing out all the stuff you're saving for no good reason, and offer it up on the FreeCycle list service. Then you can feel good three times over: thinking about how nice and de-cluttered your house is, thinking about the people you've gifted with your castoffs, and thinking about how you haven't contributed to the landfill problem. (You might even get a bonus and meet a new friend through FreeCycle. That's how I met my best friend!)

14 - Visit an older person in your neighborhood, especially one who doesn't get out much. Sit and talk...and listen. Ask questions. Ask about when she (or he) was a young woman (or man), about her/his/ family, friends, first house, neighborhood, and hobbies. Ask, too, about how different the world was then. Not only will the person you're visiting be grateful for the opportunity to talk, you may even get ideas for fourteen more ways to make the world a warmer place to live.

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