Today I had the pleasure of attending a fundraiser for one of my favorite local charities. As always, I was in awe not only of the stories told by the families who benefit from the services, but by those of the volunteers and staff who shared how much their work means to them. We are fortunate to have so many generous souls on this earth.

All of that got me thinking about my own interest in philanthropy. I was that child who would lie awake at night worrying about the poor and starving children of the world and wondering how I got so lucky. I was sure if I thought long and hard enough, I could figure out how to help them all. So what was it that influenced me at such an early age to care so much about the plight of others? Truthfully, it was the hard work of all those writers, reporters, and photographers who brought the news into my living room every night. It was those heartbreaking images and well-told stories that haunted me.

We artists and creatives are in a unique position. We can and should donate our time, money, and expertise to causes we support, but we have something else to give . . . our talent. Because when an artist or playwright or musician or writer portrays pain or illness or despair in their work, they allow the rest of us to feel what it must be like to be starving or homeless or ill. They take us into the heart of war. The soul of misery. They allow us to look into the eyes of suffering.

But artists also enable us to feel the joy of human connection, the achievements of those who are challenged, the absolute love of a parent for his/her child, the small miracles of everyday life. It’s those emotional connections that make all the suffering and joy in the world seem real and immediate.

So I’m taking a moment to thank all the artists and creatives whose work has challenged, changed, or affirmed my view of humanity and to thank you for making me feel both troubled and determined. And I’m challenging all of us to use the gifts we were given to make a difference.