Here’s to a socially conscious new year: Six simple resolutions for 2016

by Kathryn Levy, MSW

 

 

 

January is often considered a time to start anew; to change things from the previous year and look at those areas where we can improve. Few among us do not make at least one resolution moving into the new year, whether or not we express them vocally. Better health resolutions, whether it be fitness or weight-based, is common. Spending less and minimizing at home also seem to be pledges many take. But what if this year we all take some time to become more socially conscious? Instead of focusing solely on ourselves, we take on a resolution that affects not only one person, but also those around us?

 

Being socially conscious is a sort of social awareness. Instead of focusing on the individual, we develop empathy and responsibility for the problems and injustices that exist within a society. It means paying attention to things that  we have overlooked, on purpose or not, in order to gain a better understanding of the world beyond ourselves.

 

 

image: John Hain Creative Commons CC0 1.0

image: John Hain Creative Commons CC0 1.0

 

 

If we resolve to be more socially conscious, how does one go about doing that? Of course, saying “I’m being socially conscious” is not enough (though a good start). Fear not! Below are six simple ways anyone can be more socially conscious. Committing to even one of these is a great way to step into 2016!

 

 

  • 1. Consider the needs of others around you. This is perhaps the easiest way to begin on the road to social consciousness, as it’s something we should all be doing already. This is a skill we already start learning in early childhood. We are told when it is time to share toys or include another child in play because they are sad or being excluded. We should carry this basic skill throughout our lives. In adulthood, it can be as easy as second nature — but it doesn’t hurt to give it a little more thought. In reality this is simple, as we all share some common needs: to be respected, to feel a sense of belonging, to feel safe. By treating each individual we interact with the understanding of these simple needs, we can be more socially conscious.

 

  • 2. Spend time educating yourself on social issues. There is an apparently endless supply of ways to educate oneself these days through media outlets. Newspapers, magazines, dozens of news channels, an abundance of websites, and more. In my daily life, I have (sadly) heard people say that they don’t want to listen to the news because it’s always bad. Even if this is the case, it is no reason to remain unaware of the world around us. We NEED to stay educated. We need to be aware of what is going on, both the good and the bad. Ignorance does no one favors — and it doesn’t stop the good or the bad from happening. Bonus points if you go beyond your country’s borders!

 

Tokyo: People hold placards denouncing Japan's legislation to abandon decades of pacifism, July 24, 2015.

Tokyo: People hold placards denouncing Japan’s legislation to abandon decades of pacifism, July 24, 2015. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

 

 

 

Consider how the international news can affect you too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 3. Step outside your “comfort zone.” This should be simple and fun! All it takes is trying something new. Explore a part of your town that you’ve never been to before. Experience a different culture through food, entertainment, fashion, belief systems, lifestyles — whatever calls to you. Travel to a new place if you have the means, whether it be a new state, country, or continent. By encountering new people, places, and things, we begin to gain understanding and acceptance of things beyond our own selves.

 

 

map showing europe and asia with toy car on it

Image: Pexel Creative Commons CC0 1.0

 

 

  • 4. Develop empathy. This goes beyond simply considering the needs of others; empathy is perhaps one of the most complex skills a person can develop. With empathy, we attempt to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”  We put ourselves aside and consider the emotions of another person or group while considering their life experiences and circumstances. This is no easy feat; it requires thought, an openness to others, and excellent listening skills. It tasks us with putting our preconceptions aside and to focus on what makes us alike versus what makes us different. By being more empathetic, we can find a deeper connection with those around us, develop a greater understanding of our own purpose, and be altogether a happier individual.
    Drawing of two heads outlined, with the word EMPATHY underneath in multiple colors

    Image by Gerd Altman Creative Commons CC0 1.0

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 5. Talk to those around you-what do they do? You’ll find that just by asking, your friends, family, and co-workers may have a myriad of different causes that they are aware of and support. Chances are that they will appreciate your interest in something that is important to them and they will be happy to share as much as they can with you. Maybe you’ll find a way to even go beyond that by joining them in volunteer activities for a cause. Remember- support for a cause does not necessarily need to be monetary. In fact, investing your time can be even more helpful.

 

  • 6. Be a socially conscious social media-user.
    The term “don’t believe everything you read” comes to mind.

    Barack_Obama_with_artistic_gymnastic_McKayla Maroney lookinbg skeptical

    Barack Obama with gymnast McKayla Maroney in 2012. Official White Photo by Pete Souza

    This could not be more true when considering social media. For every reputable source, there’s one with baseless information. Using and sharing trusted sources is important on so many levels. First, social media users often see what is posted by those connected to them and assume it to be true. If you choose to disseminate information, make sure it is from a site that you trust and is reputable. Simply put, check your sources. The same goes for when you are commenting on other user’s posts; be credible and build a reputation of sharing reliable sources.

 

 

So there you have it –  six simple ways to start the new year as a more socially conscious individual. Go forth and gain awareness!

 

And don’t forget to tell us how it goes, or give us additional ideas to grow our own social consciousness.

 

Kate Levy -young white woman with blond hair, blue sweater, standing with arms propped on an outdoor chest-high wall.

Kate is currently a PhD student at the University at Buffalo School of Social Work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author bio:  Kate Levy was in the second year of her MSW program at the University at Buffalo when news broke of a Buffalo area teen who committed suicide after being bullied by classmates for years. “The tragedy [of Jamey Rodemeyer’s death] sparked my attention, and I realized the importance of researching the prevalence and outcomes of bullying and bullying-related suicide,” Levy recalls. “I knew this is an area I could really be passionate about, an area where I would really like to make a mark and have a real-world impact.” Now in her third year as a PhD student, Levy plans to research bullying experiences and coping mechanisms for children and adolescents with disabilities.

Read more about Kate here.

 

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