Had COVID not come along, do you think that we would be suffering the extreme civil unrest that currently is plaguing the country? I posit that we would not.

It’s not that there aren’t serious issues that need to be resolved. There are. We have seen many of these issues in the past, and sadly, little has changed with regard to some of them.

What’s the difference this time? People have too much time on their hands and too little to distract them. The national unemployment rate is approximately 10%—even higher, at 15+%, in New York and Massachusetts—and the vast majority of people still are living a quarantined life with few outside activities such as sporting and cultural events and other activities to distract them. That means they have plenty of time on their hands to focus their attention on headline news. More importantly, these news events—social unrest, demonstrations, the upcoming election—give them a purpose…they are a raison d’etre for those who are in desperate need of distraction beyond the four walls of their homes.

It has been Groundhog Day for the past six months—each day melding into the next…weekdays melding into weekends—with nothing to break up the monotony and no outlet for the frustrations caused by the pandemic. Have you or someone you know ever picked a fight simply out of boredom? I have. So, voila…a heinous act and the media helping to fan the fires of division become a perfect diversion for bored house-bound people.

Here’s my challenge—what else can you do? What can you do that is productive and effective, rather than attending sometimes violent protests and writing angry social-media posts? I don’t think anyone in the country at this moment is unaware of the social and racial divides. The message has been heard. More protests—peaceful or not—and more violent rampages will not change the message or increase the number of people aware of the problems.

But personal action can make a difference.

I have a friend who works for a global consumer-goods company. The president of her company sent a notice to all its employees that the company (like many companies) will address its diversity efforts and set a goal for “diversity hires.” The goal he set was a big number and seemed to be somewhat random, especially since he did not define “diversity hires” and the percentage of those planned hires was significantly larger than the percentage of blacks in the US.

The company’s notice raises more questions than it answers. Where is the company going to get all of those “people of color”? Do “diversity hires” include not just blacks but also Middle Eastern, Asian and Native Americans? More importantly, where is it going to get qualified people to fill those positions, since not everyone has the skills or interest in this company’s jobs?

My friend and I had a fascinating conversation about corporations paying lip service about and professing their support for BLM and diversity—but in the end, what are these companies actually doing?

What are the professional sports teams actually doing to help the minorities for whom they profess their hurt? Helmet stickers and jersey patches do nothing to change the lives of people who are suffering. And what are the players themselves doing to directly help the populations in need? I know that some players are extremely generous with their time and money in their local communities…but are all the kneelers doing the same? 

My friend and I talked about how her company should think about sponsoring in-school programs to provide assistance closer to the root of the problems, possibly working with schools and children to improve their education or access to technology resources…perhaps creating mentorship programs for at-risk children…or internships that expose teens to the corporate world.

Athletes and celebrities are happy to kneel and tweet, but are they going out to the communities to provide help at the individual level? To provide nutritional counseling or technology training or support for victims of violence in their homes? Or working with local governments to create programs that provide resources—job training, skills training, day care for working mothers and more—so that people can attain their American dream?

Think about it. Are you complaining…or are you doing? Frustration channeled into productive action is healthy, creates pride in your accomplishment, satisfaction of generosity and human connection. Frustration that festers is merely inflammatory and, in fact, is dangerous to your health.

Wondering how you can help? Here are a few ideas to get you started…

Big Brothers Big Sisters: Be a good role model and resource for less privileged young people. 

Teach English as a second language: There are many places you can help people learn English—local libraries, adult-education courses.

Provide support for parents and children in emotional distress: Parents Anonymous has many programs that help parents and children.

Invest in Opportunity Zones, Housing and Urban Developments:  Help spur private and public investment in America’s underserved communities.  These are 8,700 economically distressed communities nominated by the country’s governors that provide tax incentives for private investment in rebuilding these areas.

Offer sports programs for at risk youth: In 2019, the US Department of Health and Human Services launched the National Youth Sports Strategy aimed at unifying “…US youth sports culture around a shared vision: that one day all youth will have the opportunity, motivation and access to play sports—regardless of their race, ethnicity, sex, ability or ZIP code. Contact HHS, or talk to local recreation departments, sports clubs or church youth groups about programs to help young people channel their energy into athletics.

Volunteer for Correctional Reentry Services: Help those who have broken the law and served their time in prison to find pathways as  contributing members of society.

The list of challenges that need to be addressed is virtually endless, so find out where you can help and really make a difference. 

Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast,  where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life.