Share & Connect
After reading Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder, one word comes to mind; compassion. For the main character Farmer this seems to mean not only the standard definition but a break down in words. In my opinion, if we come passionately into life, we can show greater compassion for life and those in it.
It is clearly not a utopian idea to think that one person can have a large effect on others because we can see it done. One person can effect one other person or thousands of others. Teachers inspire students on a daily basis, and give of their time to encourage education. Nurses and Doctors heal the sick, volunteers put smiles on the faces of poverty, the elderly, and the dying. The wealthy make donations, driven men, woman, and even children start organizations every day.
It takes time to build awareness, funds, and followers, but it can be done. If one person or a small group believe in something and they are passionate about the work, they can accomplish most anything they set out to. Nothing is created or cured overnight. Compassion and a driven vision see things through. When I was around ten I set up a lemonade stand out on the golf course I lived on. I raised over $300 in just a few days and the money went to the SPCA. While volunteering to feed the homeless this past Thanksgiving, a little boy was brought up on stage where he received a standing ovation from the poor for the money he had helped raise for them. These acts of kindness are small but epic changes, and movements have to start somewhere.
I am not sure that there is a common thread in the lives of those who choose to help the community. I don’t think we all share a troubled past, or all share a need to fix the world. I think the thread lies in similar experiences. Those who truly help others, and continue to do so, seem to have shared experiences of reality. The large business who donate thousands of dollars to All Children’s Hospital may not continue to help as much as those who have gone in and sat on the bed of a sick child and read them a story. People who can empathize with others, who gain firsthand experience, and who are naturally compassionate about life, are the ones who will make a difference in the lives of those in need. When I was younger I made monthly donations to a children’s fund and I volunteered my time with Big Brothers, Big Sisters. It was more rewarding for me to spend time with a child, to mentor, and assist, than it was to send hard earned money to a name in hopes that some of it would reach the child I was sent a picture of. In cases like that it was important for me to know I was making a difference, rather than hoping I was.
I think the same can be said for Farmer. He is so passionate about the people he works with. He empathizes with them, because his experiences are up close, and he takes pride because he knows he is making a difference. I think that if more wealthy people were exposed to situations that required their attention they would be more likely to want to help. I hate to say it, but I was guilty pleasure watching the Kardashians a few years ago and Bruce Gener took his daughters to a poor area of their town to meet with people who lived in homeless shelters. His daughters immediately made friends, wanted to help, wanted to go back, and wanted to spread the word. This one experience was eye opening, and they hadn’t been introduced to it till they were in their late teens. To me this is unacceptable.
What we see on TV and in the media does not become real to us until we see it in person. We are jaded by media exposure. People of all ages seem immune to suffering because suffering has become a form of entertainment. When we see it and live it, suddenly our eyes are opened and we want to help. Another reason why someone might continue this type of activity is because, it simply feels wonderful to give back. We can each discover what groups we are passionate about and give of ourselves in a way that is rewarding and enriching for all parties involved.
We as individuals can respond to a magnitude of problems that seem overwhelming by simply doing. Start small, start somewhere. Put some change in the homeless man’s cup on the way to work or donate that dollar during cash out for the sick kids at Subway, for the heart association at Publix, or for the sheltered animals at PetCo. So many places offer the chance to donate at cash out.
I think that a lot of young adults going into science, medicine, psychology, cultural anthropology, and even economic careers could benefit from giving. Farmer has given up so many luxuries and donated his life to helping others, and he started at a young age. For people in their late 20’s who are asking, what the heck and I going to do with my life and this degree, I highly recommend this book. It speaks to readers hearts and minds, encouraging readers to not just get the degree and the careers for the money, power, fame, recognition etc., but to actually challenge themselves, to do something for the world that they know will make a difference.
I find it hard to believe that an Asian country has a toilet that tells you every physical thing that is ailing you by reading your pee every time you flush, but we have poverty in the world. I find it hard to believe that even our president is going on vacations with his family that cost as much as curing hunger for a while in impoverished countries would. Young adults wasting money they don’t have on cocktails to fill holes in their lives that helping others might fill. I will say it again, if everyone in the world who could donated one dollar a year to the world, we could probably cure world hunger, build better houses for the homeless, or wells for the thirsty.
Christmas is a time to give and receive. I hear children with their million dollar lists of wants, unaware that down the road may be a child who doesn’t even know what Christmas is. As far as I know, this process of shielding ourselves and others from the less fortunate has been going on since the beginning of time. But I think it is all about experience. Experiences shape who we are and who we are willing to become. Yet we can’t throw suffering in the faces of the blind, or force the naive out into the streets.
So, my suggestion is to hit mass consumers through media. We are willing to air suicide bombings and people shaking their rear all day on TV, to blog about who’s hot and not, to Facebook our every thought, why not non-profit causes? Yes, we see the hungry children and puppies with flies in their eyes to the tracks of Celine Dion, but it’s clearly not enough. People feel guilty for not donating but they are afraid their donations won’t make it to where they are needed. There are thousands of organizations that could be advertised on Facebook, on highway signs, on TV or entertaining commercials with hidden happy agendas, in newspapers, or headliners online. If people are exposed to it more, they may be more likely to help.
I am reminded of a story I read in an honors class at Eckerd, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. In it, a community can live in a perfect Utopia as long as a child suffers in the dark. There is no pain or suffering in Omelas, but one person has to experience unlimited suffering in a dark hole in the ground. At a certain age people of this town are allowed to see the sufferer, and choose to stay or to walk away. The point I considered is that people would rather walk away and suffer as opposed to helping that “sacrifice” which would cause the utopian society to crumble. I think that we walk past the “sacrifices” every day and most will choose to walk away or to return to their lives, not wanting to disrupt the “balance” of imbalances we have created.
Suffering is a part of life. Suffering breeds awareness. Heartbreak makes us self-aware and stronger, death wakes us up to life, and thus is a crucial part of life and in understanding ourselves and others. We may become better in touch with ourselves by reaching out to those who are suffering. In doing so, we may relieve ourselves of the unknown suffering we experience through caging ourselves in these bubbles of misunderstandings, fear, and selfishness. Just as Farmer has done, we should seek out our passions and come passionately into life, breeding compassion for others.
Image credit: Compassion International via Facebook