Sick of Feeling Like a Helpless Bystander? People Feel Powerless and Hopeless, But We Aren’t

September 30, 2021

Elaine Parke, MBA, CS, CM, NSA, is the author of The Habits of Unity

America is in a dark place right now. If you’re frustrated by the dissension and angst going on at every level of government and citizen life, you’re certainly not alone. But Elaine Parke has a rather pointed question for you: What are you doing, right now, to change it?

“People feel powerless and hopeless, but we aren’t,” insists Parke, author of The Habits of Unity: 12 Months to a Stronger America…one citizen at a time. “We don’t have to accept self-interest, intolerance, and incivility as the new normal. In fact, if we’re not intentionally living in ways that counter these forces, then we are part of the problem.”

Parke is on a campaign against insensitive compliance with the status quo. She is convinced we can create a better, more unified America. We can drastically improve our own mental health at the same time. And it’s not just that we can. It’s that we must.

“We don’t have to be helpless bystanders,” she says. “We can transform our own lives; treat others with dignity, respect, and kindness; and create a healthier nation in the process. Mental wellness and good citizenship go hand-in-hand.”

Parke admits her book might appear a bit “lightweight” given its emphasis on subjects like peace, helpfulness, and gratitude. But look deeper. You’ll see that it’s a statement of reckoning on where the buck stops: squarely at the doorstep of each American who isn’t leading their life to the best of their abilities with respect and regard for others, our democracy, and our environment.

Plus, it lays out a solution that actually works. Parke, who has a background in advertising and marketing, has nine studies to back up her assertion. For 30 years, her scalable, outcome-proven, and habit-forming 12-month model has transformed lives across the USA’s Midwest and in Rwanda. In 1993, it was deemed a “Social Invention” by the London Institute for Social Inventions.

“My plan uses the same marketing principles that corporations and politicians use to sell their stuff and their ideas to Americans,” she asserts. “It’s just that, in this case, what we’re selling is a 12-month protocol for good health and good citizenship.”

The idea is that as the campaign goes viral, everyone is focused on the same branded behavior each month. The easy-to-grasp, color-coded, one-month-at-a-time plan is easy to put into practice. It feels good, so people want to keep doing it. Over time, rather than dissipating, communities of shared monthly practices emerge and can be sustained, just like holidays.

Her book’s 365 one-magic-minute-a-day motivational format is designed to serve as “mental nutrition” for readers. Parke believes our mental consumption matters just as much as our calorie consumption.

“If we spend time each morning reading and absorbing that day’s entry, we can intentionally fill our minds with positivity,” says Parke. “We can let it drive our actions. We can build life-affirming habits. We can share these messages on social media to motivate others. I’ve seen it over and over: We become what we consistently think and do.”

Here is a glimpse of the 12-month framework laid out in The Habits of Unity:

JANUARY: Help Others
Color Cue—Gentle Aqua

Goal for the Month: To lift our spirits, and the spirits of others, by caring, sharing, and giving.
January is the beginning of a fresh new year. It’s a great time to carry on the spirit of holiday giving, hopeful celebration, and goodwill, which too often just ends abruptly.

TIP (January 13)
Spend today acknowledging how other people’s lives are intertwined with your own. Look around you. Ask yourself who made the chair you’re sitting on. Think about who stocked the shelves at the grocery store. Write a note to a person from your past who intertwined their life with yours when you needed it and made a difference. Give them the gift of appreciation.

FEBRUARY: You Count
Color Cue—WOW! Fuchsia

Goal for the Month: To know that you count and to BELIEVE it.
Appropriate for Black History Month, February’s focus is on knowing that you have a purpose and were born with gifts to fill that purpose.

TIP (February 4)
If you have children at home, spend extra time with them or with your grandchildren or with the neighbor’s children. Let children know you value and respect them. Encourage them to know they count. Be patient with them.

MARCH: Resolve Conflicts
Color Cue—Peaceful Dove Gray

Goal for the Month: Patch up a relationship with at least one person.
Even if you began this month like a lion, decide to go out like a lamb. Work on calming yourself down and taking timeouts when you feel your emotional temperature rising.

TIP (March 10)
Successfully using humor in a “resolve conflicts” situation is a matter of timing, but it can be done. When anger is high, humor can be interpreted as a belittling lack of respect for the other person’s point of view. Begin to resolve a conflict by listening and negotiating. Use humor later in the process to bring emotions back together into a renewed common bond.

APRIL: Take Care of Our Environment
Color Cue—Spring Green

Goal for the Month: Select an environmental project as simple as planting a tree in your own yard.
Let’s renew our commitment to the outdoor environment and to the future of the fragile planet we share. What we take care of today will be preserved for future generations. This is a time for us to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of the natural world.

TIP (April 25)
Water is precious; conserve it. Like the Amish, use a broom when it’s raining and not a hose to clean your driveways, paths, and steps. Save hundreds of gallons of water. Put on that raincoat, or not, and let the warm rain cleanse your soul too. Then, sweep your driveway clean in the rain!

MAY: Be Grateful
Color Cue—Grateful Pink

Goal for the Month: In addition to appreciating others, take time to appreciate yourself—do something you’ve always wanted to do!
“Be Grateful” is a perfect mental health habit for May. During this special month, we celebrate both Memorial Day and Mother’s Day.

TIP (May 13)
One of the most difficult aspects of appreciation is expecting it. We know that we “shouldn’t” expect anything in return when we give to others—but it is easier said than done. Building our habit of giving without expecting to be thanked is a good thing to work on this month.

JUNE: Reach Higher
Color Cue—“JOLT” Orange

Goal for the Month: Break free of procrastination. Do the important task you have been putting off for too long. June is the month to break free from the boundaries around you. We are able to bloom and grow in direct proportion to our willingness to dream.

TIP (June 2)
Stop waiting for life to get easier. So often, we postpone our dream until “things smooth out” or until our problems disappear or we have more time. Dreams will never happen in our lives unless we start toward them now. Tough times are often the most fertile ground for converting problems into opportunities we never believed would come our way.

JULY: Become Involved
Color Cue—Patriot Red

Goal for the Month: Have a great summer by volunteering at least some of your time. Good citizenship is more than just voting. July is a great month to give meaning to your Fourth of July celebration by volunteering your time to a cause that is important to you.

TIP (July 20)
Activism is not often popular. When great changes have been needed in our democratic society, the courageous people—like Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a bus—suffered greatly. If you truly believe in an issue, take a stand for it—even if it’s unpopular.

AUGUST: Know Who You Are
Color Cue—Thoughtful Blue

Goal for the Month: Be able to write down your own values about family, children, personal behavior, work performance, and your role in your community.
August is a slower-paced month of vacations—a time to relax and also to reflect. Encourage yourself to reflect on your values and where “you” are taking your own future.

TIP (August 21)
Look around you. Unless you are in the woods surrounded by pure nature, you are surrounded by items that were once ideas and beliefs that began in someone’s mind and heart. Every great invention was at first a frail idea. What do you believe in? What frail idea can you contribute?

SEPTEMBER: Do Your Best
Color Cue—AWARD Gold

Goal for the Month: Pick a task, even a small one, and give it all you’ve got! As kids go back to school and vacation season ends, it’s time to anchor our resolve and begin again. September is a good time to celebrate our contemporaries and people down through the centuries who have contributed the best of themselves to us and to the world we share.

TIP (September 7)
Be inspired by the words of James Todd Smith—a.k.a., LL Cool J—who grew up in a climate of domestic violence: “Destructive behavior and a lack of focus will cause you to neglect yourself, your spirit, God, and your family. I can’t make sure my family is okay if I’m concentrating on the pain of my own past. I just have to forgive and get on with my life.” (reprint from USA Today, June 1998) The point? Turn the pains of your life into gifts you can bestow on others.

OCTOBER: Be Patient and Listen
Color Cue—Slow-Down Lavender

Goal for the Month: Find the patience to make cherished memories out of more moments this month. There is a sparkling spectrum of color in every moment, every person, and every autumn leaf. Let the leaves remind you to enjoy the colors of each moment and to appreciate the treasure of “moment jewels” that you will find when you are patient with yourself and listen to your heart.

TIP (October 4)
Take a few minutes to listen for the guidance that comes from within your own heart. Everything we create in life comes from our inner silence. Give this resource time to bloom. Close your eyes and sit in silence for five minutes.

NOVEMBER: Show a Positive Attitude
Color Cue—SUNNY Yellow

Goal for the Month: On every excursion, wear JOY in your smile.
Sometimes it is necessary to “fake it ’til we make it.” When we do, we may find that a “true” positive attitude will come about more quickly. Enjoy the moments as they happen, especially the joy of Thanksgiving. Make positive memories to savor again and again.

TIP (November 15)
Keep a positive attitude during adversity. This is easier when we remember that we actually do “get through” the tough setbacks. Quite often, something better happens. Some people have lost their jobs—then gone on to find a new job in a direction they wouldn’t have dreamed of.

DECEMBER: Celebrate Community, Family, and Friends
Color Cue—EVER-Green

Goal for the Month: Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Whether finely seamed or tattered and torn, relationships are the threads that connect us to one another. “Celebrate Community, Family, and Friends’’ wraps up the year and captures the essence of the holiday season, no matter what religious or humanist belief you hold.

TIP (December 19)
Just say, “I’ll be there.” Being there for a friend is the greatest gift we can give. When we help others, healthy things happen to them and to us. We are renewed in love and our spirits soar. “When you face a crisis, you know who your true friends are.” - Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers

Parke’s dream is to spark a unity revolution across various groups—communities, workplaces, schools, etc.—that rises from the ground up and sweeps across the nation. The sooner we realize that we’re not helpless bystanders (far from it!), the sooner we can get the revolution underway. “If we haven’t learned much else from social media, we’ve learned that shared thoughts, for good or bad, become powerful beyond measure when they reach lots of people at the same time and are repeated over and over again,” she says. “Together, we can overcome the pain of a divided America with the power of goodness.”

About the Author:
Elaine Parke, MBA, CS, CM, NSA, is the author of The Habits of Unity: 12 Months to a Stronger America…one citizen at a time. For 30 years, her scalable and evidence-driven 12 habits of social unity model has transformed several million community citizens and youth across the USA’s Midwest and in Rwanda, helping them feel more caring and connected to one another. In 1993, her monthly branded and colorful habit-forming model was deemed a “Social Invention” by the London Institute for Social Inventions.

Parke spent 25 years fine-tuning her mass-market media skills in corporate America. Then, in 1987, she redirected her focus to helping people get along better. Her first book, Join the Golden Rule Revolution: Practice One Habit…Each Month of the Year, was published in 2000. She has won many awards and recognitions for her work.

Parke is certified in public speaking, violence prevention, conflict management, and mediation, as well as meditation, and has been a popular speaker in her field of driving health and positive social and civic engagement with managed media strategies. She has been an occasional guest marketing lecturer at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and Carnegie Mellon University. To learn more, please visit www.12habits4allofus.org

About the Book:
The Habits of Unity: 12 Months to a Stronger America…one citizen at a time ( Outskirts Press, 2021, ISBN: 978-1-977-24276-1, $21.95, www.12habits4allofus.org ) is available at bookstores nationwide and from major online booksellers.