One day (perhaps even today), a situation will present itself to you for which you can do something to help but which you might consider insignificant. But most importantly, there will be logical reasons not to. Am going to ask you today … forget about the reasons, logic and just do it.
When I left my small village in Cameroon almost 20 years ago to pursue post-primary education, I was exposed to a world that had hitherto been non-existent to me – I saw a beggar for the first time – someone who would come up to you and beg for money (usually). My worldview was rudely shattered! Until the age of about 17 or 16, I had never seen someone who begged (for money, for food) and I just didn’t know how to relate to it. This rude shock only increased in intensity the further I travelled from home. In the day, I usually ignored any able bodied beggar with the logic ‘they are just lazy’ or trying to take advantage. Now that am older, have seen a lot and now wiser, I know it’s not always that simple.
Fast forward to 2011 in Paris-France and for the first time in my life, I saw a grown able-bodied man sleeping on the streets in near-zero temperatures. Not 30 minutes later, I met what looked like an entire family in the same situation, and begging. As this has happened more to me in different countries and cities, I have tried to ignore the pleas for help or alms with thoughts like …”this is unsustainable, how can my little alm help this person? Even if I could give them a €100, it wont be enough to get them on off the streets and keep them fed”. I am and always have been a believer in sustainable solutions and in Systems Thinking and I know full well how aid, even personal aid can be a bad i.e. have unintended and negative contrary consequences. But I am also be very empathic and can imagine myself in other people’s shoes, so those two tendencies are always conflicting.
About the middle of this year in the hot golden sunlight of the Arabian desert, I had some clarity about this – all the reasons (yes they are shallow and egocentric) we give for not helping now, for ignoring usually serve only to assuage our guilt, because deep down our spirits, speaking through our consciences long to reach out to another human being in need at that moment. Persisting in such a mentality only makes us meaner women and men, it kills the bonds that exist between us and that apparently unfortunate person, it kills that part of our spirit that we all share as human beings. And should we let that thinking persist all of the time, we’ll miss an opportunity to SERVE something greater than our own needs at that moment and thus remain at lower levels of self actualization.
Here’s a different way to look at the situation.
- Despite what our ego might want us to believe, that person’s existence does not depend upon us. In the grand scheme of things, they were alive before we came around and they will be alive long after we have gone. There are rare exceptions when our interventions are matters of life and death. In those situations, our responses or actions are quite clear (I think, having never been in such a position myself).
- In that moment, fate is handing us a responsibility – just keep the wheel turning. Don’t worry who will turn it tomorrow (if we have the heart of a saint, we will find a way to help not just today but tomorrow too). Just recognize that the wheel is still turning today because someone turned it yesterday. So the only question is: “Will we make sure the wheel is still turning tomorrow?”
- This is also an opportunity, to rise above the petty needs of our egos. For those of us who are men/women of faith, this is our chance to be of service to the glory of God.
So unless we can outright sense that someone wants to take advantage, if we can, we must GIVE. Give, with gratitude in our heart and with a smile on our face. And as we give, we must be sure to look them in the eye, for that is the message that speaks far more than anything else we are doing, and says “Inspite of your circumstances, I respect you as another human being”. If we pull this off well even once in a while, we at that moment are being “Instruments of Peace” and the full power of God and all the saints stands behind us.