50 ways to find the hero in you. 

The Goldfinch

Yes, I agree. The world’s gone bonkers.

(Also, yes, hi, hello, how are you, lovely day, et cetera).

Anyway, since the world’s gone bonkers, it’s a good day to tell you about my friend David, the ornithologist, retired pilot, former Flying Tiger, Vietnam veteran, staunch liberal and tireless environmentalist who now spends summers in France studying birds and writing a book that I am looking forward to reading. David is, among other things, a very good writer.

We met through an effort to raise funds for a local museum that was to house the Memphis Belle, the iconic WWII bomber that was, for a time, located here in Memphis. My firm was engaged to do a feasibility study for the project, and David was a member of the sponsoring foundation board. The museum project didn’t pan out, and plane was relocated; but David and I remained friends, for which I am thankful.

It was David who first introduced me to the movie Food, Inc. and David who asked how I could lay claim to intelligence and moral conscious and yet both believe in God and bear children. As he is quick to point out to anyone who will listen, our natural resources can support, sustainably, around 1-1.5 billion people, not the 7.5+ billion now inhabiting our planet. It’s dire. Scientific data and mathematical calculation indicate that there’s little hope for us to make it as a species; belief in a greater power, a deus ex machina miracle, is folly. That’s what David says.

I sort of agree, sort of. I believe that string theorists will eventually prove that what some of us think of as God is actually an energy flowing among us; and our children’s children will figure out what to do with that knowledge, how to harness the good in it. Mind you, my degree is in art, and I began my career as a typist in a secretarial pool; so my credentials are clearly suspect.  And no, I don’t feel even the tiniest bit of conflict between this belief and being an Episcopalian and Sunday school teacher. In any event, I believe we are all connected in ways we can’t currently understand. Also, I am unwilling to believe the experiment is pointless, that there is nothing we can do to affect our certain doom.

So David believes we are doomed, and I believe in God. David says the things he says, and I love him anyway because is he funny and lovable and smart and interesting and a dearly, deeply poetic soul. Also, he forgave me for once using the word “loan” as a verb. Also he is right, on all counts; but so, possibly, am I. We can both be right; sometimes it can work this way, even when people disagree, although we often seem to have forgotten that it’s possible.

At this point you are perhaps wondering about the list and when it will begin, because surely a post titled “50 ways to find the hero in you” will have a list. It will, though probably not the way you are thinking. You are thinking, perhaps, that you’ll get a list you can print, with tidy check-boxes, so you can do things like pay for the person behind you in the Starbucks drive-thru line. That is a fine and generous thing to do, no doubt. But, no, this is not that kind of list.

This will be an organic, evolving list to help you find the hero in you. I’m giving you a dozen suggestions off the top of my head to get started, but you’ll have to fill in the rest. Or we can do it together, which would be fun. That’s the beauty of a blog; you can contribute and contribute and contribute. And I can keep adding and editing long after hitting the Publish button. Especially since there is at least one typo in here, somewhere, no matter how thoroughly I proof and edit. 

On any given week there are four-to-five hundred of you stumbling through here, reading and clicking and sharing on social media, even if you’re reticent about posting actual comments. (You know who you are, and I do, too. It’s OK.) Anyway, the point is that there are enough of us to come up with at least 50 ideas or more, working together.

Keep in mind that the hero in you rarely does anything single-handedly, in a vacuum. And contrary to what Hollywood might suggest, the hero in you is not the strong, silent type who saves the day and then slinks back into the dark recesses to lick tortured emotional wounds alone. No, the hero in you engages with other people for the general good. The hero in you is the spark of humanity reaching out to connect with another spark, not waiting for anyone else to get things started, first, or for someone else to do the job at hand.

You may be wondering, possibly, what all of this has to do with recent terrible events, the headline-grabbers that make it seem like the world’s gone totally bonkers.

Here’s a thought: there were 2.2 billion(ish) of us in the 1940s, and now there are approximately 7.5 billion. By 2050 there will be somewhere around 9-9.5 billion, if predictive models hold true. Deeds, good and evil, once magnified across 2.2 billion people are now orders of magnitude bigger. It’s possible that the world now is just as bonkers as the world has always been. Again, art degree, career that began in a typing pool, suspect credentials, et cetera.

One thing I do know with certainty is that irrespective of our varied utopian or dystopian views, here we all are, today, right now. The work in front of us now, today, this minute, is to help one another where and how we can.

Be an instrument of good. Share what you know. Find the hero in you, then help someone else do the same. The only certain failure is if we all quit. As Jane Goodall (lovely, gentle badass that she is) said in a recent documentary, “We mustn’t give up. We mustn’t.”

50 Ways to Find the Hero in You: the Starter Set

  1. Commit to centering yourself, every day. Yes, I know; it’s a strange way to begin a list about helping others; but the hero in you needs to be grounded. None of us is any good to another when discombobulated. Taking a few minutes at the beginning of each day to center yourself will help you summon and focus your strength. Some people center with yoga and candles and breathing. I do it with a 5-minute mind map. I write down the word(s) representing what’s heaviest on my mind and then draw out the extended connections and possible solutions. When time’s up, I pick one thing – ONE – that I will do during the day to address what’s heavy on my mind.
  2. Give blood, in December. Surely you knew this one was going to be close to the top of the list. December is the season for blood shortages. If you are ineligible to give, then recruit a friend. And if you’re thinking, “ooh, I could do that AND get $25 Christmas spending money,” well, no. In the U.S. blood is regulated as a drug – something many well-educated people do not know. The red cells, platelets and plasma transfused to patients – real people in real hospitals – has to come from non-compensated donors, meaning we can give you a t-shirt and some snacks, but not $25. Collections from paid donors go for research or further manufacture, not to a patient fighting lymphoma or trying to survive a fire or car accident. If you don’t know how to find your local volunteer blood center, here’s a link.
  3. See # 2, and pledge to do it 2-3 times in 2016. Blood is a precious renewable resource. Renewable. If every donor gave just three times a year, at regular intervals and not just when a tragedy is on the news, then shortages would be rare or non-existent.
  4. Sign up to be an organ donor. If you’re thinking, “oh, I did that when I first got my driver’s license,” then please take just a minute to confirm that your license today reflects that decision. Do it now. Then make sure you’ve made your wishes clear by telling someone who will likely be consulted when the time comes.
  5. Make a buddy pledge (that’s at least two of you, together) to do one thing – just ONE – in 2016 to lower your impact on the environment. Your driving habits would be a great place to start. Meatless Mondays would be another. Again, little things multiplied across orders of magnitude turn into big things.
  6. Sign up to assist with refugee resettlement. If you’ve been asking yourself, or others, “how can I help?” here’s your answer: find the local organization coordinating efforts (if you’re in Memphis, here’s the link – thanks to a recent post on Humans of New York), and put action to your thoughts of goodwill.
  7. Buy a copy of Humans of New York: Stories (or any of Brandon’s books). If you’re not familiar with Brandon Stanton and the Humans of New York blog (or Facebook page, or Instagram account), then do yourself a favor and get acquainted, because if there’s a better effort to illustrate how we’re all connected I can’t think of it. So visit the blog and then purchase one of Brandon’s three books, because the proceeds from book sales fund his work, including the U.N. trips to Syria and Iraq and Turkey, because Brandon wants to be beholden to no one.
  8. Make mitzvah bags for your homeless neighbors. Yes, they are your neighbors, the people who live in your neighborhood. Instead of money or a suggestion to head to the nearest the shelter, take this suggestion from my friend Ashley: assemble pre-packed goodie bags, stash them in your car, and hand them out to your neighbors in need. What to put in the bags? Socks, pop-top cans of tuna, granola bars, bottled water, and other necessities – but particularly socks. (Yes, I know, bottled water is very environmentally unfriendly; the world is full of ironies and contradictions; also, you may have a better suggestion, and I hope you’ll share it.)
  9. Sign up for the national marrow donor program, and then commit to following through if you get a call. Here’s a sobering statistic, one I heard in a presentation a couple of years ago: approximately two-thirds of registered marrow donors say “no” when they get the actual call to give. The process and guidelines for marrow donation have changed in recent years. Fewer people are eligible (age restrictions), but the harvest procedure is often less invasive for donors. A match is like a needle in a haystack, a true miracle. It could be you.
  10. Create a roster of the neighbors on your block, then share it with the neighbors on your block. Walk door-to-door, say hello, become familiar. Note the neighbors who might need extra help in times of trouble, like power outages. This may sound ridiculous, especially if you’re lucky enough to live on a block where a roster is a long-standing tradition, but I find that more people don’t know their neighbors than do. If you think this job belongs to another neighbor on your block who’ll magically decide to do the work, it doesn’t.
  11. Write a note, a real handwritten note on paper, to send or give to someone who won’t expect it. It could be a thank-you note, a note of recognition for cheerful holiday decoration, or a note to a friend you see only on social media and only occasionally. “Dear Jane, I was thinking of you today and how much I miss the sound of your raucous laughter, the way you tell a dirty joke. I hope our paths will cross again in real life one day. I am fond of you. That is all.”
  12. Walk through your neighborhood – or another neighborhood – and pick up trash. This one also works at your children’s school or a local park.
  13. OK; your turn. Go. Find the hero in you by sharing an idea. 
  14. Volunteer to read to an elementary school classroom (thanks, Susan T.!)
  15. Call your local Veterans’ Affairs office and sign up for whatever they need (time, supplies, etc.). (anonymous)
  16. Interview your elders; help them write their memoirs. (thanks, nshami!)
  17. Say something. Say hello, say thank you, say can I help, say I love you, say I see you, say that was great, say I’m sorry, say this sucks, say I’m right here, say please, say yes, say no. (Bonus points if you make eye contact.) (Thank you, Chaplain Bush. Amen.)
  18. Remember that “no” is a complete sentence. Sometimes saying no is more heroic than saying yes. (Thank you, friend.)
  19. Leave flowers or poinsettias or plants in your neighbors’ steps – no note, no need for acknowledgement, just shared happiness. (Thanks, neighbor!)
  20. Make a pledge to yourself to eliminate the toxic people in your life. (Thanks, friend, for reminding me of our pact!)
  21. Share good cheer, like this: http://youtu.be/kuRn2S7iPNU (Thank you, friend; may your cupboard always be stocked with Marmite.)
  22. “You should add in those things from the year when you did 12 days of anonymous giving, things like offering to babysit for your kids’ teachers’ children, and
  23. “Making a double batch of dinner to take to a neighbor, and
  24. “Writing 12 thank you notes, one for each of the 12 days of Christmas, to send to people who believed in you and helped get you where you are today, and
  25. “Donating current popular fiction books to a women’s shelter or elder care facility or library. Those are still good things.” (Thank you, reader.)
  26. …   50.

And if you don’t want to leave a comment with your addition(s) to the list, then you can email or send them through the “Contact Me” form, and I’ll add them to the list here, either with your name or anonymously. As you wish. (Because every day with a Princess Bride reference is a good day.)



  1. Say something. Say hello, say thank you, say can I help, say I love you, say I see you, say that was great, say I’m sorry, say this sucks, say I’m right here, say please, say yes, say no. (Bonus points if you make eye contact.)

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