• Technology is integrated into our business and personal lives. We never go backwards, only progress forward at an increasingly mind-spinning pace. It's time to cast off anything that isn't state-of-the-art because we won't be going back to it. If you haven't upgraded, do so now before you are hopelessly behind. The necessity to keep up with the advances in computer communication and services is a given.
• The market is strong. The rich are getting richer. The middle and upper classes in developed countries are clamoring for nicer, newer, more convenient products. Life span is increasing. People are living longer and demanding products that will make them comfortable. Luxury and convenience are necessities and demands.
• The poor are getting poorer. Underdeveloped countries around the globe are in dire need of help in every respect: medicine, education, self-sufficiency and compassionate service.
• Respect for laws, morality, ethics and virtues is decaying. Many young people are adrift in a world that satiates the appetites but leaves them hungry inside wondering what really matters. For many, materialism is a smoke screen blurring our view of the truly important parts of life. We become shoppers and sightseers never concerned with anything deeper than meeting our human drives.
These four givens—two positive, two negative—are frank realities of our brave new world in the 21st century. Viewing the bad with the good, we have to wonder if acceptance is the answer. Although we can choose to put all our efforts into building business and making money so we, too, can enjoy an upscale lifestyle and focus on leisure and vacations, some of us are wondering if that is the best or only course of action.
Is there a better way? How can we create our own new millennium and experience a deeper, more satisfying life? How can life itself be more meaningful, not just more financially prosperous? It is a truth in life that seeking money is not the source of the deepest happiness. Giving back is.
So you want to be truly happy, no matter what or where your career is? Look around for ways to improve the quality of life for others. A photographer I know who has traveled the world, sometimes for National Geographic magazine, once advised me, "Karla, the really important thing is to be part of the experience, to contribute, not just to look on but to be solidly on board in improving the quality of life."
Whose life are we talking about here? Well, yours and those around you. Now, we already are improving the lives around us as we further the window treatments industry. Those in retail feel the satisfaction of helping the customer to enjoy a more beautiful, safe and comfortable interior environment. But let's go beyond that. Let's look at two viable options for really making a difference beyond what our careers spell out for us.
SERVICE AT HOME
Look around your community. What needs are there? What can you do to improve the community, the safety of children, the needs of elderly? Every single community needs volunteers. It does not have to be every day or every week. An occasional helping hand is just as important. One designer I know drives for the elderly once a week. She says it has changed her life and has brought her happiness she never knew existed.
Try going into the elementary school and reading to the children. Look into existing programs that need helpers in your town or city. Don't let "I don't have time" stop you from trying to help others, for service is the best gift you can give yourself. It eliminates the "poor me syndrome" we all occasionally experience, and it makes you truly, deeply happy.
We live in a society immersed in selfishness, one that promotes and rewards excessive materialism, a society that worships secularism. However, volunteerism—freely given service to others—is a powerful tool that can provide you a means for deep satisfaction. And the needs are so great. If each of us would just help a little in a good cause of our own choice, then our communities would be safer, better places for everyone.
How can you help in your own community? Here are some ideas:
• Schools at every level are in need of helpers in classrooms, with fund-raising and on playgrounds. Computer upgrades and programs for special needs always are sought.
• Every community has public services that need volunteers: hospitals, hospices, soup kitchens and shelters for the abused or homeless. Take that leftover fabric and have quilts made, or try tying them yourself, it isn't hard. Donate them to a worthy cause such as the homeless in your area.
• Every community has programs that are so easy to support: scouting, youth programs, adopting a grandparent or grandchild. Letting one or two people into your life isn't threatening, its rewarding.
• Get involved with a church. Many people decide faith in God is indispensable for happiness. Much good is accomplished through organized churches, and you can choose your area of emphasis to do good work.
• Look for ways to physically improve your community. Become a part of the solution to clean up your environment, improve the lighting, paving or safety of your own neighborhood.
The key to giving happily and receiving the rewards of service is to look into your heart and mind and ask yourself, what are my interests? What would I like to see improved? I love this quote, "If you didn't already have the ability, you wouldn't even have the desire." If you have an inkling of a desire to help, the way will be opened for you to accomplish the good thing you want to see happen.
Never underestimate the power of one. You can make a difference.
Humanitarian aid is an area where a vast amount of good also can be accomplished. Unfortunately, when you give to those abroad you may never hear a thank-you, and you likely will never see the way your efforts helped someone in dire need. But that very fact can bring a greater joy, that your giving was not done to be seen by others, for it has its own reward. This type of benevolence is freely given to help others.
I firmly believe that the very reason we are living a life of beauty and profound material blessings, is so we can bless the lives of others. Here are some ideas for service abroad:
• Support an organization with financial donations. Be sure to check out your selection; be certain the donations really do translate into help. People in many underdeveloped nations are starving.
• Gather excess clothing and bedding and donate them to a humanitarian fund.
• Target a specific area where you might like to help, go to the Internet and type in that country or region and the words humanitarian aid and just see what your search will find.
A PERSONAL THANK YOU
Earlier last year, my husband and I had the incredible opportunity to travel to a remote region of Central Asia, southern Siberia, to the city of Karaganda, Kazakhstan (formerly Kazakh, USSR). We were the first families into this region to adopt internationally after a new law was passed making adoption legal throughout the country and for the first time in the Karaganda region.
What was supposed to take only a month eventually took more than three as authorities fought among themselves on how to administer the new law. After six weeks, I returned to the United States to finish my semester at Brigham Young University and to give seminars for D&WC at the International Window Coverings Expo in Atlanta, GA.
I agonized during this time about my husband's ability to manage our three newly adopted children without me on the long journey to Almaty, Kazakhstan, Moscow, then home through New York. John Clark, D&WC president, stepped forward and offered to pay my return flight back to Karaganda, and by a miracle I was given permission to re-enter this police state from a reluctant Kazakh embassy.
I thank John and D&WC magazine for making it possible for me to help escort our three beautiful new children home. And I recommend to everyone the experience and joy of adoption. Families now are in and out of Kazakhstan within a month, and there are programs in other former Soviet states and China where families can be in and out within one to two weeks.
I will be forever grateful for the privilege of seeing firsthand the orphanages filled with beautiful children, and also the poor living conditions of the working people who cannot afford to keep their children. With each adoption, we donated $1,000 to the orphanages directly. Our donations provided food in one orphanage. In another, utilities were paid when they were about to be turned off, and in another, the ceiling could be repaired. I collected vitamins and medicines and paid heavy baggage overcharges in Frankfurt, Germany, but was thrilled to give these directly to the orphanages for the benefit of those precious children.
Upon our return home, I refused a baby shower to welcome our new children and asked rather that my friends donate diapers, plastic pants and pins, which I have since sent to Denver, CO, to be shipped overseas via Project Open Hearts. Its director will be certain the diapers are given to the orphanage nurseries and that they learn how to use them correctly. This woman has been the means of bringing well over $10 million in surgical training and donated medical equipment to Central Asia. I have been amazed at what one person can accomplish.
Other projects our family has participated in include the making or giving of quilts and putting together hygiene kits for domestic and international use for disaster victims. We recycle all our paper, cardboard and plastics. I count these as opportunities to make small differences. Perhaps you have done much more. If each of us would just do a little, collectively we can make a big difference.
It is up to us to determine what the real face of the new millennium will look like. If we develop the right attitude, it can be a time of compassion, a time to reach out and do something unto the least of these, our brothers and sisters of the human race. Make a difference! Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University.