“Hey bud, here you go.” I looked over to my right when hearing these words, only to see a young man handing a meal to an older homeless gentleman sitting on the sidewalk. I know, there’s a long debate about whether such an action actually helps those in need. But in the world in which we live, we need all the acts of loving kindness we can muster.

As I travel the country, I hear people from all walks of life, from all political persuasions, from all faiths and incomes, lament the state of our nation.

Recently, I sat in a discussion where people divvied themselves up into opposing camps on an issue and then abruptly stopped talking for fear of ending up in a heated battle. On another occasion, I was in a Midwestern town where people of different political parties saw each other as sworn enemies. Each day, as I watch television news, you would think we are in some kind of civil war, where opponents spew hatred, innuendos and outright lies.

We all know that such overblown rhetoric, overwrought feelings, overdone posturing are leading us down a dangerous path. We risk seeing one another as playing on opposing teams wearing different jerseys; we risk cartooning one another’s vital views and heartfelt emotions; we risk dehumanizing one another.

What then is left? Where do we go? How do we make any kind of collective progress?

We are failing to see and hear one another. We have forgotten the intrinsic value of one another. Human dignity becomes a victim. 

I have long argued that we need real change in our society, which will take true collective action. I have often thought that individual acts of goodness cannot replace such action. But today we urgently need more individual acts of loving kindness.

Such acts come in many forms—saying hello to the stranger, holding the door for another individual, offering up your seat on public transit, providing someone a compliment, visiting the sick, buying the person near you a meal.

These acts may not bring about the transformational societal change that you or I seek. They will, however, re-sensitize us to one another. They will, however, awaken some of our deadened senses. They will, however, shine a small light in what can be dark times. They will lift spirits and make us more human.

It’s a good place to start.

Richard C. Harwood is president and founder of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization located in Bethesda, Md.