Category: Social Activism


As a superhero you are naturally inclined to help people. You see someone struggling with their groceries, you run over and help them. Someone is having a tough month so you offer to take them to lunch or bring by some extras you made for yourself. Sometimes people appreciate it, but other times they are offended by your gesture.So how are you supposed to know when someone truly needs help and if they are willing to accept it?

Unfortunately, we live in a society (I’m speaking to the West, primarily the U.S. here) where people are expected to always strive and struggle alone. Where needing  help or asking for it are considered sins and where helping people is an altruistic duty–but only so long as those people are willing to refuse that help. It makes no sense. Everyone struggles at least once in their life. Stuff happens outside of our control–layoffs, accidents, death–and once in a while we need a hand. It doesn’t make a person less hardworking, less noble, less anything. The only requirement in my mind is to pay it forward.

There is no shame in asking for help, nor is there anything negative about offering assistance (no-strings attached of course). I say that a hero should always try to help, even if it means facing ridicule. It’s better than the alternative–pretending everything is okay and ignoring those in need.

What about you–would you offer your help even if it meant facing ridicule or scorn?

Saturday October 23rd is Make a Difference Day. Although I think its great to take a day to purposefully reflect on ways we can make a POSITIVE difference in the world, I think a much better approach is to make it a lifestyle change. Making a difference should be a way of life, not just a one day affair. One day of good deeds is not enough to undo a year’s worth of injustice, ignorance, and apathy. We need to strive to make a difference 24/7, 365 (plus one extra day of superhero antics every leap year).

So yes, please stop on Saturday and think of ways to make a difference and then ACT on them, but don’t stop there. Think of ways to make it a part of your life. Small acts repeated over time have a snowball effect, eventually resulting in major and lasting change. So instead of only celebrating Make a Difference Day, why don’t you take the pledge to be a hero and make a difference for life!

We’ve already talked about how heroes come in many shapes and sizes, but superheroes also become heroes for different reasons. The reasons are as varied as the type of heroes they become, but for the most part they can be broken down into two groups: proactive and reactive.

Proactive Heroes

Proactive heroes have a strong sense of justice and humanity. They see something wrong with the world and go out and look for ways to fix it. They have no other motivation than the fact that something in their heart is compelling them forward. It’s just something they have to do.

Reactive Heroes

The reactive hero, as the name suggests, becomes a hero in reaction to something. Usually it’s because of an injustice they experienced or one that was done to someone they care about. They react in a positive manner, doing everything they can to make sure that no one else has to endure the hardship they endured. It’s not that they were uncaring before, it’s just that now it is a personal mission and a way to take charge of the hurt inflicted on them.

Both heroes are noble and valuable even if they adopted their missions for very different reasons. So long as they are out their advocating for a better world it doesn’t matter why they became a hero. What does matter is that the world is better because of them.

Oftentimes, when we think of heroes we think of those famous people, the ones on national news who have done something outrageous and huge. Although its great to have such a wide reaching impact, the most powerful impact one can have is on their own home town.

Home town heroes, just like all heroes, come in many shapes and sizes, and like I’ve said a million times it doesn’t take much to do something heroic especially if its in your own back yard. All it takes is a local perspective, a sense of community, and a little time.

Here are a few ways to achieve hometown hero status:

  1. Buy local: Support local businesses and farmers by buying local instead of from the big box stores. Not only do you help keep unique businesses open and people employed, you also keep more money in the community. According to the 3/50 Project, for every $100 spent local, independently owned establishments $63 stays local compared to less than $43 spent at box stores.
  2. Vote: Local governments are incredibly receptive to constituent concerns and support, more so than at the state or national level. There are always coffee with the representatives, council meetings, and other opportunities to speak directly to candidates and representatives about your concerns. Of course the best way to have your voice heard is by voting.
  3. Volunteer: There are so many ways to support your community. It only takes a few hours a month to make a huge difference. You can tutor local kids, teach a class at the community center, organize a park clean up, or deliver meals to local families. The possibilities are endless, as is the impact.
  4. Throw a block party: National night out is coming soon. Strengthen your community and get to know your neighbors by throwing a block party. Exchange phone numbers and offer to watch out for each other’s property and kids. Not only will you feel safer, but you’ll also enjoy your home that much more.
  5. Become a weekend warrior: Weekend races and festivals are commonplace. Though a great way to get in little exercise and competition, many of the races you see are held to support a cause such as breast cancer or your local food bank. So get out of the house, get some exercise, make it a family event, and support a local cause.
  6. Donate: Local charities do so much for the community. When the economy slumps, these charities are often the hardest hit as their reserves are quickly depleted. Add a few extra cans of food to your groceries this month or send in a check to help out your local food bank or crisis center.

Of course, how you become a hometown hero is only limited by your creativity and abilities so don’t be afraid to think beyond this list. If we all take the time to do a little in our own communities, we can start a snowball effect that will reach far beyond our hometowns.

I would love to hear what you’re doing in your own community!  Share with me in the comments section.

We all want to do more, something good for the world, but sometimes we find ourselves overwhelmed by the amount of need and injustice there is in the world. Then, instead of doing something, we become incapacitated by the sheer size and weight of it all, and instead do nothing. Thing is, it doesn’t take much to make a difference. It only takes small acts, repeated consistently, to make a big difference in your life and in the lives of others.

Sometimes all it takes to impact others is to make changes in your own life. Small changes that will make a big difference in your life include:

  • Read or listen to something educational or positive for 30 minutes every day. Over time you will become more enlightened and positive, which will change your attitude and outlook on life. Those around you will notice, you will have more energy and knowledge to pool from, which will help you perform better at work and home.
  • Add in 30 minutes of activity. Take the stairs, park further away from the building, go for a walk in your neighborhood, dance in the living room–it doesn’t take much to start moving toward a healthier life. The healthier you are, the better you feel, the longer you’ll live, the longer you’ll be there for your family, and the less medical care you’ll need as you age.
  • Acknowledge your accomplishments. Stop at least once a week and acknowledge the positive things you’ve done. No achievement is too small here. You’ll be surprised what it does to your ability to handle setbacks and to identify opportunities.
  • Take your lunch/make your own coffee. Eating and drinking out quickly adds up. Substitute at least one meal out with something brought from home. Start putting that money into a savings account. The average cost of lunch is $5-15 for one person . That’s an average of $520 a year!
  • Cut out 1 hour of television. The television is one of the biggest time sucks. If you really can’t tune out, try doubling up–exercise, craft, clean, or do some other activity while watching television so you don’t waste that time completely. Of course, you’ll be surprised at how refreshed you’ll feel with less television, especially if you limit it before bed.

Of course, it doesn’t take much to have an impact on others. Here are some small ways you can make a difference in the lives of others:

  • Donate an afternoon once a week/month: A couple of hours of your time can help tutor a child, deliver meals, clean up a public park, and more. Sometimes, that’s all the time it takes to save a life, to change someone’s view on life, and to improve the community.
  • Donate $5 a month. Take that money you would put toward coffee and put it toward your local food bank, animal shelter, library or other charity. As you feel you can afford it, add more to the donation pile. What you used to spend on your caffeine boost can feed a family, save an animal, build a well or school, and so much more.
  • Follow the three R’s. Reducing your waste, reusing materials, and recycling help to cut back on waste and reduces the amount of land needed for trash disposal. Not only does it preserve natural resources and improve your local environment, it saves taxes and other costs associated with building and maintaining landfills. Oh and don’t forget to BYOB–Bring Your Own Bag!
  • Write a Note. People don’t know how much you care if you never tell them. A quick note saying how much you appreciate someone will boost their self-esteem and strengthen your relationship. Of course, we always need reminding, so don’t forget to show your appreciation often.

These are just a few suggestions. Of course there are a million little things you can do daily, weekly, or monthly that will build up over time into big changes. In what small ways can make a big difference today?

As a superhero, you’re always looking for ways to give back to your community. There are more than enough organizations and causes for the superhero to choose from. Too many, in fact.  With so many to choose from, how do you decide which opportunity is best for you? Here are a few tips to help you decide:

  1. Choose the cause you’re most passionate about. Every cause is a worthwhile cause. You may feel the pull to choose one or more because you recognize the need for change. However, in order to be a truly valuable volunteer, you need to be able to serve as a “raving fan” for your cause day in and day out. So remember, it’s okay to choose your passion even when volunteering.
  2. Be realistic about how much time you can commit. Don’t be afraid to ask how much time the organization expects each volunteer to commit. In order for it to be fair to the organization and manageable for you, stick to opportunities that fit into your current schedule. Whatever you do, don’t over-commit. Volunteering should be an uplifting experience, not a stressful one.
  3. Talk to other volunteers. Find out what other volunteers think about their experience. Ask them what kind of activities they do? What are the other volunteers and administrators like? What do they like most/least about volunteering? It’s one of the best ways to find out what your experience will be like.
  4. Compare the volunteer duties with your skill set. Look for opportunities that will also let you shine. If you’re an artist, look for ways where you can help beautify dilapidated buildings. If you’re a carpenter, then maybe something like Habitat for Humanity will work well for you. If you’re a writer, see if you can help with their newsletters or grant writing. Of course, don’t overlook the fact that volunteer opportunities are a great way to learn new skills, so don’t be afraid to challenge yourself either.
  5. Try it out. Talk to the volunteer coordinator and see if its possible for you to try help with an event or some activities before you commit to volunteering on a regular basis.

If you’re not sure where to look for volunteer opportunities, check out Volunteer Match or United We Serve for opportunities in your area.

Above all, don’t be afraid to explore multiple opportunities. Look at the many ways you can participate within each organization and choose the one that best fits your interests, personality, and time availability. Above all, actually get out there and do it. It doesn’t take much time to make a huge difference in someone’s life.

As I’ve said before, everyone can be a hero. One way to achieve that is by volunteering. After being introduced to an amazing cause, Room to Read, I decided to sit down with one of the Austin Chapter organizers, Sherrie Nguyen to learn more about Room to Read, how we can help this amazing cause, and her experience as a volunteer.

Diaz: How did Room to Read get started?

Nguyen: Room to Read began with a simple phrase: Perhaps, Sir, you will someday come back with books. John Wood, a former executive at Microsoft, was trekking the Himalayas contemplating his current life when he was introduced to a school in Kathmandu with a library that housed no books. When he asked how he could help and heard the headmaster’s response, John was moved to action and has never looked back. He began an email campaign that was heard around the world and returned a year later transporting thousands of books on donkeys and was welcomed with the smiling faces of eager children. Room to Read was born in 2000 and in 10 short years has impacted nearly 5 million children in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Diaz: What is the mission of Room to Read?

Nguyen: Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in developing countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Working in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments, we develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond.

Diaz: What is the biggest challenge your organization has faced (can be for just the chapter or as a whole)?

Nguyen: The Austin chapter was founded in 2008 by volunteers who heard John’s story and answered his call for action. We have grown tremendously over the past year in terms of brand recognition and awareness in the Austin community. However, our biggest challenge is this market is saturated with local and global non-profits, and while the community is ranked high in the nation for volunteering and donating time, Austin is also ranked low among other states for financial giving. Since the Room to Read chapter networks drive 1/3 of the operating budget each year for Room to Read through zero-cost events, this poses a challenge for fundraising in Austin.

Diaz: What has been the greatest success (same as above)?

Nguyen: At the same time, we receive a ton of support from the Austin community in helping to promote our cause through in-kind donations. Momo’s donated their venue for our Room to Rock music showcase, Clay Pit and Thanh Nhi host country-themed dinners for us annually, and Lavaca Street Bar and Dolce Vita are participants in our Beers for Books programs ($1 for every beer purchased, buys 1 book for a child in need).

Diaz: What made you get involved with the program?

Nguyen: I got involved with Room to Read after reading John’s book Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. Because of John’s experience, Room to Read operates like a business, running lean on overhead and constantly innovating to scale quickly. In fact, after the first few years of operation, Room to Read was building schools and libraries faster than Starbucks were appearing on our street corners. I support Room to Read because I believe in the mission, and I see the impact of our work.

Diaz: What has your personal experience with the organization been thus far?

Nguyen: My times with Room to Read over the past few years can be described in so many words – fun, inspiring, rewarding, and valuable. I’ve met John and Erin, Room to Read’s CEO, several times and am extremely confident in their vision and leadership. I stepped in to the role of Chapter Leader for Austin last year because like other volunteers, I have Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) and am a firm believe that we are creating disruptive change in the world. I am driven by the leaders of our 40+ chapters all over the world each year when we reunite in San Francisco for our Chapter Leader Conference, and I am traveling to India this December to see our work first-hand. It’s the wonderful people that make Room to Read so great and keep me working this night job with a smile on my face.

Diaz: How can others help?

Nguyen: A little bit of money goes a long way in the developing world. You can choose to sponsor a project, such as building a school/library, sponsoring a girls’ scholarship, or publishing a local language book through donations at http://www.roomtoread.org/donate. Each community matches monetary donations in the form of their own money, sweat equity, or building materials/land. This makes our projects sustainable by the communities and government. The Austin chapter is also always looking for volunteers to either join our core team or to work our events. You can find more information and contact us here: http://www.roomtoread.org/austin.

Diaz: What would you tell someone who is on the fence about becoming a volunteer?

Nguyen: It’s up to you how much time and effort you want to contribute. All of our chapter leaders work full time jobs and have busy lives outside Room to Read, but we come together with the common belief that we are creating world change. We are happy to receive as little or as much time as you are able to give and always welcome you with smiling faces! Attend one of our upcoming happy hours (last Thursday of every month) and get to know our team. We’d be so thrilled to meet you, and we always promise fun!

Superheroes are social activists, always involved in the issues, speaking for the little guy. When it comes to public

Photo via NY Magazine

debate, complicated issues are boiled down to misconceived stereotypes and ideologies that gloss over or completely ignore the real circumstances of the underlying issues. The fact of the matter is:

Real People Get Hurt When We Don’t Honestly Look At The Issues.

There are human beings, with varying circumstances, needs, wants, abilities, limitations, and other factors all affecting what they can and can’t do. We can’t employ fallacies to appease our prejudices, nor can we assume that it’s all black or white, false or negative, either or. That’s when we come up with solutions to the symptoms of a problem, and not the cause itself. Then the problem perpetuates.

Remember–behind every debate there are real people suffering.

Be a hero. Speak for them. Make the media and politicians humanize the issues.

“Prejudices are what fools use for reason.” –Voltaire

Because superheroes stand out from the crowd, its important that they be able to justify and defend their beliefs in a sound and reasonable manner. Too often, the political discourse and social commentary that people buy into are full of fallacies, faulty lines of reasoning that rely on prejudice, fear, stereotypes, and ignorance. Each fallacy has a name, but what they all have in common is the fact that they are unsubstantiated, inflammatory, and are clouding the way to healthy and sound solutions for some of our worst problems.

At best, a faulty argument looks something like this:

Mary is a woman.

Mary likes brussels sprouts.

Thus, all women like brussels sprouts.

It’s faulty to assume that what is true for one person is true for all. Right now, there are people calling for drug testing for all people receiving government assistance through welfare and unemployment. The assumption is that people on assistance must be doing drugs and that their drug abuse is the cause of their poverty and unemployment. By proxy, all people who are employed and off assistance must therefore be drug free.

It is false to make assumptions about either party. Drug use and employment are not directly related, nor is poverty and drug use. Recent Hollywood cases have shown us that there are plenty of drug addicts with more than enough money to cover their habits and their bills.

Be a responsible Superhero. Rely on evidence and logic when sharing your ideas and beliefs. Qualify your statements, and divert to authorities when you don’t know. Above all, point out when someone else uses a fallacy to defend an unfounded conclusion. It’s the most powerful way to stop injustice from prevailing.

It only takes one person to make a difference.

Too often we wait around for someone else to be the first. We let injustice and hatred continue because we don’t want to be the one to stick out our neck and absorb the first blow. We’re afraid of what might happen, that no one will be there to support us, that we may endure negative repercussions in return. You know what else might happen?

You might succeed.

You might stop that ranting asshole who never knew how much he tormented others. You may inspire a woman to leave an abusive relationship. You just may save a life. Doesn’t that make it worth it?

Here’s my favorite it takes only one story. If you ever think you can’t stand up and make a difference, just stop and think about this guy. I have for over twenty years. If one man can stop a tank, imagine what you could do.