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Why We Should Help Others: A Moment With Bill Reflection
What’s in It for Me?
I actually had a student ask me that question once. I had just asked him if he would be so kind as to empty the classroom wastebasket. Now most students would jump at the chance to help out a teacher, if not for humanitarian reasons then at least for brown-nose points, but this little wiseass wanted to know how he was going to profit from helping me out.
“What’s in it for you?” I asked. “How about your continued good health?” I said.
He emptied the wastebasket immediately without any other bartering necessary.
Now I was actually shocked twenty years ago when that student asked that question. If I hear those words today I am not shocked. Why? Simply because our society is becoming more self-possessed by the day. Our society responds to greed and self-interest, and the concept of actually doing something for someone without pay is a foreign one for many of our fellow citizens.
Sad, but you know it to be true.
How are you doing on this whole “helping others” topic? Are you a giver? Are you a taker? Or are you a lump of meaningless flesh and bone that is too complacent and apathetic to get involved with any give and take whatsoever?
A Lesson from My Mother
There I was, reclining on the couch one rainy Saturday afternoon, fifteen years old and terribly full of myself. I had put in a grueling week of school (or so I believed) and I was enjoying the fruits of my labor. In other words, I was sitting on my butt not doing a damn thing.
A voice is heard from the other room. I ignore it. The voice is heard again, a little bit louder. I ignore it again. Finally my mother steps into the living room and asks me if I heard her calling me. I proclaim ignorance, something I was naturally good at. “I’m sorry, Mom, I didn’t hear you,” I said.
Undeterred, she notifies me that she needs my help loading some old clothes and household items into the car, and then she needs my help taking the items down to the Church and distributing them to the poor.
“But Mom,” I whine. “It’s my day off. I just wanted to relax today and besides, it’s raining out.”
She mentioned something about getting my lazy ass off of the sofa before she told my father. I immediately sprang into “willing humanitarian mode” and started to help her.
As we were driving the load down to the church I decided to get it all off of my chest. “Mom, why are we giving our stuff away? You and Dad worked hard for our things. I don’t see why we would just give this stuff away without getting something in return. Why are we doing it?”
And here is her answer, an answer that has stayed with me for fifty years. Are you ready for it? She looked at me, smiled, and said: “Because it’s the right thing to do, Bill.”
Because It’s the Right Thing to Do
Well who says it is the right thing to do? I know someone reading this is asking that question right now. According to whom, they are saying, is it the right thing to do?
And I would answer: according to anyone who has any compassion or empathy in their body.
I know today where my mother was coming from. Remember that my mom was a teen during the Great Depression. She was raised fully understanding the value of neighbors helping neighbors, because for those who lived during that time, it was a matter of survival. Reaching out a hand of help to a struggling neighbor was as natural as breathing for people of that generation, and quite often it was the people with the least who gave the most.
Fast forward seventy-five years and we seem to have lost that message, and yet I would submit to you that it is as important today as it was during the days of bread lines and the WWW.
I’m not sure if you have noticed, but times are tough in the year 2014. The middle class is literally disappearing. Full-time jobs are being replaced with part-time jobs and somehow our political leaders call that growth. Families have less disposable income than at any time since the Flower Power Generation. Homelessness has increased steadily, as has hunger. In the Land of Plenty there are plenty without.
So, just as my parents had to learn a valuable lesson, that during tough times people need to come together to help one another, I suspect we will be learning that same lesson in the very near future.
Where Is Our Sense of Community?
This concept of helping one another begins in the home. From there is spreads to the community, and from the community to the national level. Obviously, in today’s world, that spreading thing has ground to a halt. Where, then, has the message stopped? Is it being taught in the homes? If so, then why hasn’t that message spread to the communities?
I will tell you a truth that is as valid today as it was 100 years ago: a community is only as strong as its weakest link. In a true community, the common good is the guiding light. I did not say the common good of the corporations, nor did I say the common good of the political hacks who are bought and paid for. No, I said the common good as in everyone within the community.
Where Is Our Sense of Right and Wrong?
I had a rare philosophical discussion with my dad when I was about twelve or thirteen. He was trying to impress upon me the importance of doing what is right, and I brilliantly argued that what is right for one person may not be considered right for another. In other words, the actions of a millionaire may seem right to him or her, but may not seem right to a poor person. So if that is true, how do we determine right or wrong?
At that point my dad introduced me to the K.I.S.S. Principle…..Keep It Simple Stupid! He explained that if people treat others as they want to be treated, then that is right. If people treat others in a way they themselves would not like to be treated, then that is wrong.
Where Is Our Sense of Humanity?
Human beings are capable of incredible acts of kindness and sacrifice, and when they act upon those capabilities they finally approach the true meaning of humanity. When they do not, when they concern themselves only with what they can gain by their actions, then they return to the primordial ooze from which they came.
Why should we help others?
Because it is our calling as humane individuals to do so; we were born to fly among the angels, and helping others for the sake of helping others gives us our wings. Helping others for the sake of gaining something from the act clips those wings and leaves us floundering on the ground.
What’s in it for you?
End of story!
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)