It starts with You


‘Tis the season to be jolly.

‘Tis also the season to do massive amount of business, if you are Best Buy, Amazon, or Macy’s. 

And, if you happen to be a slightly plump turkey, ’tis the season to keep a very low profile indeed, and hope to go unnoticed.


Some of us may spend time helping at a food bank. We might go to church, and say a prayer for those less fortunate than us. We might even send a donation off to Care or the Red Cross, vaguely aware of the incredible  inequalities in our world.  If you do any of this things, I bow to you.

Sometimes when we see all the crazy things that happen in our world, out of the corner of an eye on the television, it can be overwhelming. But being part of creating a more compassionate, fair, sharing and caring world doesn’t have to start with huge earth-changing gestures. It can begin with what is close and  available. 

Here is a little fun challenge (and trust me here,  it is more fun than it seems at the beginning) to take into the Holidays with you.

Level 1:

Waitress 4Connect with someone serving you: in a restaurant, at an airport, in a bank or a shop. When it feels appropriate, and they are not super-stressed, you can ask questions. A good place to start is “What’s your name?” “Where are you from? Do you enjoy doing this work?” And then to the most important question, “What is your passion? What are you really excited about? What would you most like to be doing with your life?”


Level 2:

Use a social media site like Facebook to seek out someone in a country you know nothing about. Tajikistan, Mongolia, Iraq or Afghanistan might be good candidates. Send a Facebook message, and ask if you could have a live chat together. Ask questions. “What is your life like there? What are your dreams? What gives you pleasure? What is frustrating?”

Level 3:

(Just like a video game, the challenge gets more difficult as you progress). 

d100_2.3_003iConnect with someone begging on the street.  It is easy enough to toss a quarter to a homeless person. But if you are ready for a challenge, it can go much further. Take a few minutes to sit down – right there on a pavement.  Or better still, invite that homeless person to a cafe, and buy him or her a coffee and something to eat. Ask questions. “Tell me about your life…  You must have had some bad luck at some point. What was your family like? Were there things that went wrong, and worked out different that you hoped and expected?” Be curious.  And if you have some fears about this, be brave also.  I have spent lots of time with people living on the streets.  No one is going to hurt you, especially when you are in a public place.

Level 4:

Image: Westboro Baptist Church Protests Outside White House

Find someone whose opinions and beliefs are as completely different from yours as possible. If you are pro-choice, of course this would mean seeking out a pro-life lobbyist. If you are all about gun control, go talk to your local NRA chapter. You get the picture? Go to ask questions, not to preach your own point of view. You can be honest: it makes it more risky. You can be straight up and say, “I have beliefs that are different from yours, but I really want to understand more how people think who are different than me.”

During the era of the Iraq war, for example, I was extremely opposed to American foreign policy. It appeared to me to be an illegal invasion, all about oil. But that was just my point of view. I used to travel backwards and forwards between the United States and Germany at that time, so there were frequently service men and women on the flight with me, sometimes even in the next seat. As I learned to listen and to dialogue, I discovered that there were other points of view completely different from my own. I discovered that I can make the world a better place not by winning an ideological war, but by learning to listen. 


Level 5: 

This is the big league.  Make an arrangement to visit somebody in prison. This may take a little time to organize, so be creative. At least you can make the first step, to contact local authorities and find how if it can be done. You might also be able to visit somebody who is out on parole, but it is important that they have committed a crime which you consider to be morally unforgivable.   In just the same way, go to the meeting to ask questions, to find out the  forces which lead somebody to do something they may be later regret for the rest of their lives.



You and me and everyone we know, we tend to think that the world will be made a better place if we could just eradicate the infidels, and fill the world with good guys like us. Everybody thinks that, whatever their point of view. The more grey hairs I get in my beard, the more I am learning to recognize that what ails us the most is our habit of “othering,” of making someone else the villain in the story. 
We can, all of us, antidote “othering” with simple practices that challenge our comfort zones.

BetterThanSex_Cover_FINAL1Every challenge like this needs some kind of a prize. I just came out with a new book. You can find it on amazon. It’s called “Better than Sex,” and so far it seems to have earned only 5 star reviews.  I’ll give you an electronic copy of the book for free, if you complete any three of these challenges by December 31st, and report it in the comments area below.

If you complete all five, I’ll give you a book, and a one-on-one coaching session with me. 

Have a Happy Holidays, and congratulations on whatever you are doing to create a saner, more connected world.

8 Responses to “It starts with You”

  1. shelley December 24, 2013 at 7:51 pm // Reply

    this is such a great Christmas read. I want to send it to everyone I love. I have also come to the same conclusion and it was sort of a joke on me. I thought I was so cool and now I just realize that everyone is living in a reality that seems right to them and mine was not a better one, just a little more self righteous. I have become more humble and in more joy. What a great little trick!


  2. Marion December 24, 2013 at 8:40 pm // Reply

    Many thanks for the wonderful suggestions, Arjuna. We are living in such a remarkable time filled with opportunities to overcome the illusion of separation if we are willing to step out a bit and extend ourselves as you suggest. Have a beautiful Holiday Season.


  3. Ebba Hermelin December 26, 2013 at 9:52 am // Reply

    Dear Arjuna. Thank you for these challenging ” excercises and I hope you are having a good christmas-time. I have done some of the excercises already. I have made friend with a woman and a man from Rumania, always begging at my grocery-shop. So we talk about life, the future etc , they speak spanish so we can communicate, well, but, I have not asked them about their passions or dreams,,and I discover that it is as like I , uncounsiously avoid to ask them, so , that´s the next step. And the same I will do with the man in the shop. It feels when I think about it almost like turning in to another channel for a while, like stopping the time or praying.
    The BIG challenge will be to talk to on of my chiefs at my job in a real poor suburb in Gothenburg , Sweden. The one who is closing the library, the schools, who talks about reality in terms of a certain amount of money. I am looking forward to it. I feel it could be a big shift. Thank you.


  4. Mareille December 26, 2013 at 12:20 pm // Reply

    Ah, I love you Arjuna…And i´m thinking of my daughter Mascha who is out there in <<<<<<<<<romania on a World-trip by bike. She has done all the 5 levels .She had the best christmas eve ever singing for the poorest people of Sibiu in Transilvania…
    I wish you and all your beloved at home a good,honest, deep and funny time, Mareille
    ( there is a nice christmas song " All I want for christmas" from Jamaica from Putumayo collection-I often think of you and Chameli while dancing to it)!


  5. deborah j barnes (@fashionRIP) December 26, 2013 at 12:59 pm // Reply

    I skimmed as this appears another as usual go help others holiday “justification’ story. Until we start thinking critically about the culture itself, this culture that dotes on violence, prods fear, is designed to send money to an elitist few (the bank system is a debt system, designed like a game of musical chairs, which means there will always be losers) This system is the source of much dis-ease- This is not a design that will allow for the diverse creative evolution we need, want and deserve as a species on this magnificent planet. Quantum physics, evolutionism, ecosystem thinking, “Knowing heart feeling, being and consciousness – more -have expanded my ability to seek fixes that are only temporary. These acts of generosity, kindness and temp healing are not wrong but they are not long term and will show up over and over until we “learn.” “We really have to grow up here and face the manmade demons; for “we can and must do better than this “ Dr Suess.
    I found a theory that speaks for the character i am working on. She is fem hero in new story for new paradigm-i am calling it Gaiad Theory and would love feedback, reviewers responses as few are inclined towards this metadisciplined approach –anyway, always worth throwing out “here.” Thanks for your efforts everyone…now up the ante!!


    • arjunaardagh December 26, 2013 at 7:13 pm // Reply

      Hello Deborah
      if you give the piece a more careful read ( rather than skimming) you will find that the assumptions you made about this article were premature.
      ” prods fear, is designed to send money to an elitist few (the bank system is a debt system, designed like a game of musical chairs, which means there will always be losers) This system is the source of much dis-ease-”
      is an example of “othering” which this article addresses
      Give it a more careful read, and then please comment again, so you thoughts can be relevant to the page you are commenting on
      Happy Holidays!


  6. Jorge December 31, 2013 at 12:38 pm // Reply

    Yo Arjuna… thanks for these beautiful suggestions to create more connection and understanding in our society.
    I took up your ‘challenge’ and here’s how it went:
    1. I went into ‘Emmerys’ an organic bakery chain in Copenhagen, Denmark. The girl behind the counter was a shop manager to be, just needed to know the ropes first. Had had her own clothes shop but needed a shift, loved the work with people and being a manager so she thought a bakery would be IT. She totally lit up when I paid for 3 browniess ($10) and asked her to give them to costumers she had a great connection with in some way or another. Hope she’ll have her future employees give stuff away now and then… increases meaning and motivation, I think.
    2. Through couch surfing I got in touch with Natalia from Kyrgystan. Half the population still are still living a semi nomadic lifestyle, but the tendency is that people are moving to the cities, where there are not many jobs. Nevertheless, people are incredibly generous and hospitable towards foreigners and could easily invite them home for dinner and a stay over. She has now left her country to live in Dubai as it’s hard to provide for her family with the local salaries, so she got a job as a stewardess with Emirates, which also feeds her big passion which is photography and her dream is to provide for herself and family doing photography in the future & travel the world.
    3. I met ‘Welding-Svend’ who used to work on big boats for many years but during a big storm 10 years ago he fell down 3 stories of stairs from the engine room and was in and out of hospital for 3 years. He can now walk again, lives simply on the street and is a happy man. He’s dream for the world is to erase all borders and let us live as ‘Inuits’ (escimo word for ‘human being’) as one people. He provides for himself by welding for a friend and playing music. Loves his life, his friends and his gf.
    4. Met Vivi and Axel from Jehova’s witnesses on the street. Very happy and smiling people. They looove Jehova for showing them a world where all are equal, no matter race, color etc. they help their brothers and sisters with money and a place to live if that should be needed so among them there are no poor ones. They want to have a world where all know the bible and of Jehova’s existence because so many people in Denmark for instance, take for granted how good everything is.
    Quite touching to meet them actually, as I’m used to greet people from Jehova’s but have met some very persistent ones that were on a mission but these guys didn’t even give me a pamphlet, they were just lovely in their way.
    5. Didn’t succeed on this one. It’s not allowed to visit people in prison unless I know one of them personally. And I didn’t have time to sign up with Red Cross to become a ‘visit-friend’.

    So, thanks again for putting this out there, Arjuna, I met some beautiful people, got to see things from different aspects than had I not met them.
    I wish you and Chameli a beautiful and inspiring new year, with the things you’re calling in during 2014 standing clear as the sun in front of you…
    All best,


  7. Ant Connolly January 2, 2014 at 8:00 am // Reply

    AS a Rotarian of some 23 years your challenge was interesting amongst the work we already do and my wife and I both being Rotarians and Past District Governor of Rotary International we found much joy in adding to our work. Your first task we went to our local pub and baught lunch for our two regular waters and sat them down and we served them. It was great fun and believe it or not it took off and soon there were a few more takers.
    Level 2 saw us make contact through Rotary with a Rotarian from Malawi who needed help with a water project and we are now engaged as a club with assisting him and his club complete this water project in his village.
    Level three saw us , about 6 Rotarians pick up some homeless folk and take them back to our Rotary venue, bath and cloth them in new clothes, give them a food hamper and more clothes and after a good meal and armed with new blankets we took them off to a shelter where we saw they were booked in properly and hopefully off the street
    Level 4 involve our Parish Priest who we invited for supper and who chastises me often for the amount of times I miss going to mass. My Dd was a devout catholic and the priest was a very good friend of my Dad before he passed away last year. After dinner and my telling him why I miss mass because of the food parcels I deliver to the local Aids orphanage in Waterloo a particulary poor community in Durban here in South Africa and the computer lessons we give the kids on Sunday mornings I was given a good hug when he left and he promised never to bring it up again. The Lord works in mysterious ways.
    Level 5 was not that difficult as it is one of our Rotary Projects and ion Christmas eve we visited Westeville Prison in Durban to give presents to our Adult Literacy Class whom we teach twice a month at the prison. So all in all, thanks for the challenge and the added joy as we go about our Rotary Lives trying to make a difference.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
    Ant and Dael Connolly
    Past District Governor
    Rotary International
    “Mankind is our Business”


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