I had a professor for my Psychology of Growth and Development class who told us that as people, we must “…either grow or we die.” It’s a slight hyperbole, but his point is clear. Human beings are the most adaptable animals on our planet. Our abilities to grow both individually and as a society are what have helped us, as a species, both overcome and thrive in a constantly changing world.

We’ve all had homeless people come up to us asking for money. A few years ago, I started telling beggars, when they asked for money, “Sorry, I don’t support terrorism.” It usually confused them, as well as other people who I’d be walking with. In a way I was mocking the overuse of the word terrorism, while at the same time I’d explain to people that there is often a sense of fear when a homeless person approaches you which may persuade people to give them money; hence terrorism.

I use to do some work with social workers and I’d notice the people who are often in the homeless shelters were not the ones on the street. I had a friend in a bar once who watched a homeless person looking through trash outside. “You notice he didn’t get anything out of that can?” he said to me. “He’s just doing it for show so people see him digging through the trash.” He later went on to tell me the ones who beg are the entrepreneurs. Another one of our friends would remind both of us that, “We’re all just one good party and one bad paycheck away from being out there with them.”

My friend John would carry around a roll of ones. If a homeless person asked him for money, he’d always give him a dollar. It’d barely cost him anything, and he’d feel better and the beggar would get a dollar. He told me, “Everyone wins.”

In college I was having dinner in the cafeteria once listening to two friends having an argument about communism and atheism. I wasn’t paying attention to exactly what was being said when one turned to me and asked, “Do you hate me because I’m an atheist?” trying to prove some point. I responded, “Well, I think you’re going to hell.”

The three of us just laughed. The statement wasn’t intended to be taken entirely seriously, but at the time I was a devout Christian and the statement was true to my faith. I started to really consider what I said. Did I really believe my friend was going to hell? It was a growing point for me. It was a point where I stopped talking and began to start listening to others and learn about people’s belief systems and why they believe what they do. It was a point of growth, one of many, which would eventually lead me to reconsider my faith and leave Christianity.

We can only grow if we come to realize we can never know everything there is to know about our universe. Those who consider themselves steadfast, staunch, traditional and full of convictions are the people who are often hesitant to accept new ideas and to change. Although some would say these decisions are a personal choice, individual growth does affect society.

Without socialite growth in the United States, we would not see the realization of the Civil Rights Movement or Women’s Suffrage. In India, we would not have seen a people moved to peacefully resists British occupation and in South Africa, we wouldn’t have seen the end to Apartheid. We must be willing to doubt the axioms we accept about our world and always be willing to listen and analyze views we may not agree with, in order to grow together as a society.

It is never too late to grow individually. Just this past year I decided to try vegetarianism. I attempted, unsuccessfully, to celebrate Ramadan again. I chose a new favorite color. I did not make these choices frivolously. I make my choices mindfully, with much consideration, full awareness and reasoning as I grow and adapt to this changing world. The more I learned from these choices, the more I realized how little I really knew.

I was walking in downtown Cincinnati one morning, on my way to my car to drive to work. I saw a man with a sign. I can’t remember what it said, but he sat there not asking for anything. He just stood there with his sign. I was late to work and about to enter the garage, but I stopped. I looked at him, pulled out my wallet, and gave him the last single dollar bill I had. I have kept extra ones in my wallet ever since.