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Maybe it’s the brutal political climate of the past two years, but I have noticed a lot of my Facebook friends sharing and dispensing unsolicited advice on how all of us can “stay engaged,” “get involved” and “make a difference during these dark times.”

It’s funny. The economy is growing, unemployment is under 5%, and American consumers are spending more money–all this despite our dysfunctional political system and a new president who performs much of his diplomacy and policy through Twitter.

Like many Americans, I worry about where the country is headed and feel powerless to do anything about it. How can I make a difference in my own little way without completely overhauling my life?

Below is a list of six simple actions that I can and should take. It’s not an imposing list by any means, but if most of us did these six things, I believe that America would become a more trusting, more secure and more enjoyable place than it is today:

Vote

Of course, voting in the presidential election is important. So is voting in the mid-term elections. So is voting for state and local officials or referendums. This April, for instance, there’s a bond issue on the ballot for $800 million in capital improvements to my city’s infrastructure. It’s not a sexy issue by any means. Few people will probably vote on it, but a local tax for sidewalks, sewers and roads will have far greater impact on their daily lives than many of the national issues we argue about every day.

The point is, try to vote whenever you can (one time per election, I mean). Want things to improve? Want better elected officials and more accountability? It all starts with an engaged, active voting public—and not just one that goes to the polls every four years.

Read

Voting more often doesn’t work out well if you don’t understand the issues. These days, it’s a little harder to process information because there’s so much more of it, and a lot of it comes from unreliable, deeply biased sources.

In a recent television special celebrating his career, Tom Brokaw advised Americans to take a similar approach to the news as they would to researching a new car or house to buy. In other words, gather and dissect the news from various sources you trust so you can form the clearest picture of what is really going on.

If this process of curating the news sounds like extra work, it is. However, becoming selective, more conscientious news consumers (and avoiding the click-bait in our Facebook feeds) will keep all of us better-informed and, just maybe, incent today’s media conglomerates to do better reporting.

pledge-of-allegianceGive

Life is hectic. So many different things demand our attention. Still, some of us manage to give time to causes and organizations we care deeply about. It may be for a political movement, a church, a charity or a school. Giving a little back to our communities is not only a generous thing to do, it’s a way for us to stay connected to each other. It’s also rewarding, knowing we are making a difference in a way that may not benefit us directly.

If you have not done so lately, pick something in your community that sparks your passion and can benefit from your talents. Whether it’s running for public office or serving on your school’s PTA, your time and involvement helps to build stronger communities.

Be Neighborly

There’s been a lot of talk lately about what can be done to make America safer. Does anyone truly believe that a sweeping government policy or action can make us all safer? Or are we a little safer when we know our neighbors, our coworkers, our kids’ friends and what’s going on at their school?

One of the tragedies of modern society is how disconnected many of us are from each other. How many news reports have you seen in which someone commits a horrible crime, and the next-door neighbor is dumbfounded. “He was kind of quiet. He mostly kept to himself,” they almost always say.

Get to know your neighbors. Talk to your kids’ buddies. Take a coworker to lunch. Attend a school function or a neighborhood party—even if you don’t feel like it. Staying connected and knowing what’s going on not only creates a safer environment, it builds relationships and trust.

Be Kind

Open a door for a stranger. Keep calm when someone cuts you off in traffic. Call a friend or loved one on their birthday instead of sending a text or posting about it on Facebook. In other words, be the kind of decent, humane person your parents wanted you to be. These acts of kindness are easy to do, and they can also become infectious.

Tune Out

With the politicization of almost every aspect of American life, the amount of negativity and vitriol can be overwhelming. As a citizen, you want to stay informed, but you also need to know when to step away. Checking your phone every five minutes for the latest presidential tweet or CNN alert is no way to live, and most of the information is not important to your daily life.

If social media or the news is dampening your mood, try to focus on other things in your life that you enjoy. You, your family and your friends will be much better for it.

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