John McMillin: Helping others is the ultimate selfish act

If you want to make a difference in the world, I suppose you could go about it any of a thousand ways.
Jul 27, 2014
John McMillin

If you want to make a difference in the world, I suppose you could go about it any of a thousand ways. You could run for political office, you could join the Peace Corps, you could take a stand on any of a number of issues or you could start out smaller by giving a donation or volunteering.

Here’s where I would normally ask for a donation to United Way of Wilson County, but for now let’s focus on what it takes be more involved with your community. There are many people in this world who set lofty goals and want to be remembered for many reasons. Still, we all know someone who simply wants to be remembered for being the kind of person who listened and helped.

You can save the world, or you can save an individual, but do what you can with what you have. I would tell our younger generation to reach for the stars, but remember that sometimes just being there for others can save someone from a meaningless life while giving purpose to your own life.

Changing the life of another person is within everyone’s grasp and it’s an amazing feeling. You can do this by volunteering to read to children, to become a tutor or mentor. Of course, sometimes it’s as easy as making a donation to a cause you believe in.

Giving even a small amount to promote educational resources for children struggling in school, for adults who want to complete their high school education, or to feed a family struggling after a serious health problem can be some of the kindest things you can do.

Naturally, I’d encourage you to give to United Way because I happen to believe that our organization is one of the most convenient ways to make a difference in many lives through a single, small act. However, if what you’re after is improving the world and feeling better about doing so, you should choose wherever, whenever and how much to give on your own. 

After you make that commitment, follow through. Like so many nonprofits, we struggle with pledges that are never completed because of any number of reasons. We encourage donors to go the distance and see their commitment through. There isn’t a lot of difference between stopping halfway through and finishing, except to the individual you are helping.

I read somewhere that the law of karma states that whatever you do you will get back three fold. While I have no proof of this, I would agree that helping others is the ultimate selfish act because, for me at least, I know of no other feeling that compares to helping someone. Anyone can be a hero and make a lasting impact on someone else’s life.

In the end the choice is yours. Run for office, help someone get to a medical appointment, feed a hungry child or just write a check to support any or many causes. Helping others will at least bring happiness to your own life and will improve your community at the same time.

John McMillin is president of the United Way of Wilson County. Email him at


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