This probably isn’t what you’re expecting from the title.
I recently heard a song that triggered this post. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but the song really was the final straw.
I’d love to think of us as a world that works together. I’d love to think of us as a species that looks after one another in every situation and doesn’t celebrate each other’s misfortunes.
But it’s so easy to see my little world as population: one. Nobody but me exists in it.
As I write this, I can’t help but mentally list everything that I have. Clothing, food, water – clean water even, a country with endless freedoms where we live in peace, a job, my health, my family… and that’s just the beginning. I have it good. Everything is fine.
Figuratively speaking, I don’t think it rains very often in my world – maybe not in yours either. I’ve actually never went hungry, or felt unsafe as I walked down the street, or wondered if I’d be persecuted for my beliefs. Typically my biggest concerns on a daily basis are what we call First World Problems, like crying myself to sleep on my goose-down, silk-encased pillow because the Apple Store didn’t have a white iPhone in stock for me. Or my hand being too fat to fit into the Pringles can, and being forced to tilt the can. Or not being able to hear my TV because I’m eating crunchy snacks.
I can watch the news on my TV, and when I can’t swallow any more bad news, I can just turn it off. And it’s over. The bad news doesn’t really affect me directly. And I can stop thinking about it as easily as I turned it off.
But I believe too many of us, and I include myself as the first person on that list, live in a world of population: one. I know I’ve talked about our responsibility as dads and as husbands here before, and how I feel about all that. There are far too many people who see their own little family as a world where they are the only ones who matter and put their loved ones on a level of importance lower than themselves. That’s not cool. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
I can’t get rid of this nagging feeling that I’m not doing my part as a member of this species. I don’t mean being an Edmontonian, I don’t mean being a Canadian, or being a white person, or anything else specific for that matter. I mean being a human, amongst billions of others.
I’ve started to look around at the need. You don’t have to look far. You don’t have to wait for a commercial with little African babies with distended tummies to come on to remind you of the need. Take a closer look at that person standing there on the street corner, begging for money. I’ve made my own rules about how I respond to these folks, and I’m certainly not here to tell you how to go about it yourself.
I’ve often looked simply at the sign they’re holding, and started making a path AROUND them. As in, far away from them, and if I can avoid eye contact, even better. Frankly, my day would just improve if I didn’t have to think of this person one more time. But if you take the time to look at what’s above that sign asking you for a quarter, it’s simply the face of a human being. It’s a person, that at some point, may have had a similar outlook on life to yours. The longer you think about that particular person, and consider their story, the more you realize you don’t know it. You don’t know what caused them to be there, asking for your help. Sure, it’s easy to say “Oh, that person clearly made bad choices, and look where they are now.” But we don’t know what really happened. We don’t know their story, and we don’t know for sure that we couldn’t be there one day too.
I think those of us who have been given much have a responsibility to give some of it back. That doesn’t necessarily mean money. It could be time, or effort, or money, or anything else that we have an abundance of, and others don’t.
My opinion is that we are given these things – all the good stuff in our lives – in trust. You may share this opinion or not. I’ve discussed this with someone who pointed out that good things in our lives are the results of hard work. Oh really? So the folks in third-world countries that work ten times harder than I do, and barely have enough to feed the mouths in their own home, aren’t working hard then? So the person who worked their tail off in a low-paying job for 20 years that was just diagnosed with terminal cancer wasn’t working hard enough then? Truly, this isn’t about the philosophical debate that can come out of any number of angles here – it’s about what I want to do differently in my life, and what I want to teach my kids – by acting on it. You can preach good works to your kids until you’re blue in the face, but if they don’t see you acting on these words, it will have little or no impact on their decision to do the same. Much like anything else, we’ll need to live it out in order to be credible.
I don’t want to spend more time in this world of population: one. I’m hoping you’ll take another look at that person you might find quite unlovely on your way to work next time, and think about how little you really know about why they’re there – and why you’re not. I’m hoping you and I will realize that it’s a person, just like us, and that just between us and them, we’re already a world of population: two. And that there are a few billion others we can add. And that, given some thought, there is really very little that separates us from them. And when our time comes to leave this world, we’ll probably be asking ourselves “What have I given?” rather than “What have I gotten?” I want to start asking myself that question now, instead of when it’s too late.
If we can’t take care of each other, and we aren’t willing to do our part, even if it’s something small, how could we ever expect anyone else to take care of us, on that day when we might find ourselves on the other side of the equation?
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