Any serious look at the world around us can make it hard to be optimistic. We’re surrounded by so much injustice and inequity and suffering and need. Even when our own lives are stable and happy, we can’t ignore all the troubles around us.
But here’s a potential antidote for (non-clinical) depression: giving. Yes, that – in all its permutations. And it doesn’t require enormous creativity or mental energy to find a way to make it happen.
Just take a look at the more than 14,000 nonprofit organizations right here in Nebraska. This website offers a list that is searchable by both category and geography. These groups offer help with food, health care, housing, and other human services. They help people exercise their civil and legal and voting rights, get access to education and literacy, and jobs. They help prevent suicide and promote mental health.
They fill all kinds of gaps that not all individuals and their families can meet on their own and that our publicly sponsored social safety net doesn’t fill. Actually, they are essential to keeping our communities – our neighbors – alive and healthy.
Furthermore, they help us live up to our “collective character,” as Eric Liu described it in a Civic Saturday a few months ago. They help us fulfill our shared responsibility. They help connect us to our moral core.
But the point is not so much that they need us as that they are us. People like us, people who care about their world and their responsibility to it can realize their ideals by giving to and through nonprofits.
Democracy, as they say, is not a spectator sport. It requires that we all play the game. Voting regularly is a basic first move, and getting further involved in the political system is a possible second move.
But giving through a nonprofit is equally valid democratic participation. Food banks need donations of food and money; they also need volunteers to distribute food. Groups that help provide housing need carpenters and builders but also record keepers and recruiters. Nonprofits that guard civil and human rights need watchers and organizers.
In other words, no matter what your skills, you can find a way to use them at multiple nonprofits right here in our state. You don’t have to create a new group, a new initiative. Line yourself up with an existing group that is working toward the goals you value and can use the skills and experience you offer.
And, of course, giving can also mean donating. If you have the resources, giving even a little bit to support one of these essential community groups can keep the work going.
Giving is good for the community, for your neighbors, and for yourself. None of us can solve all the world’s problems, but every one of us can do something right here, right now. And that’s a great cure for depression.
Charlyne Berens is a retired newspaper editor, professor, and associate dean of the University of Nebraska College of Journalism and Mass Communications. For more Civic Nebraska Writers Group columns, click here.