How can an individual help to shape the world around her/him in a way that will lead to a positive future? What small or practical steps can a person take to do this?
"Shaping" the world is a tricky proposition. I think that, for the normal person, it is a matter of taking things one relationship at a time. You know, the "pay-it-forward" effect. But you have to do it by being a genuine person, not a two-faced crusader. Live an exemplary life and establish solid, positive relationships. Doing that will probably do more than a trillion dollars worth of government programs.
You can learn to play an instrument and help teach others to play that instrument. This is a way of enriching your life and the lives of those around you through an artistic/cultural avenue. You can also become a performer and spread your expertise, passion and talent through performance.
You can shape the world around you by starting with your immediate sphere of influence. There are some people and areas you can make an impact on. Small local changes can make a big difference. For example, you can start a recycling drive at your school. You will not only make an immediate impact, but you might shape people’s behavior in the future.
There are all sorts of small practical steps for doing this. Get educated so you can contribute to society. Raise your children right so they do not cause harm to society. Use fewer resources by taking fewer trips in your car or by not wasting food. All of these things will help to make the world a better place, particularly if you influence others to act in the same ways through your example.