“Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do”- Voltaire
This quote came to mind the other night as a friend and I were talking about community activism. He rightly pointed out, that while there is never a shortage of people available to launch slings and arrows at those who would do their best to help our community, state, or nation move forward, there is definitely a shortage of those who will roll up their sleeves and do the hard work helping the community to become better. “What is ‘better’,” you might ask?
In my mind, “better” is anything that increases our care, compassion, and empathy for one another. “Better” is independent of political ideology, education, intelligence, or talent. “Better” is anything one can do to lighten the load for our fellow man. “Better” means working to help those who can’t help themselves such as children, the elderly, or frankly even someone who just finds themselves going through a rough spot in life. George Bernard Shaw sums up this idea, “The worst sin towards our fellow man is not to hate them but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity.”
Helping others has a restorative power for us as well. Psychologists and sociologists use the word “resilience” when they wish to describe the ability of people to persevere in the wake of tragedy and challenge. Resilience and self-esteem are both increased when a person engages in selfless service. As you can see, there is a payoff for the giver of time and talent as well as for the receiver of those gifts.
If you become overwhelmed when trying to find ways to make a difference in regard to society’s problems, then I suggest you start simple. Read to a class of youngsters, talk to a classroom of kids about living through WWII or the Civil Rights Movement, volunteer to organize a “board game night” for a group of elderly citizens, or offer your construction expertise to Habitat for Humanity. “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about our interdependence, our reliance on others. "As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy, even if I just got a good checkup at the Mayo Clinic. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are all interdependent."
At no time in history was his observation truer than now. With instant world-wide communication, and a global economy, we are all connected to each other in ways that are alternatively scary and exhilarating. While competition will move an individual forward, only collaboration will provide the ability to overcome the challenges that face us locally and globally. "The ancient human question 'Who am I?' leads inevitably to the equally important question 'Whose am I?' -- for there is no self outside of relationship." - Parker Palmer
None of us knows where tomorrow will find us, or whether it will find us at all. For this reason alone, do not put off the good you can do today in the hopes of a greater good tomorrow. Gerry Harvieux noted, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”