I suspect most folks have the same kind of angst that I’ve had lately about the disaster in Japan. We see folks in great need, and there’s something deep inside us that wants to reach out and help in some way.
There are lots of relief agencies who will supply resources as they can, and we can surely contribute resources to these sorts of agencies. Generally when this sort of disaster happens, resources pour into relief agencies, but there’s always the logistical bottleneck at the point of disaster – trying to find a way to get the resources to the point where they can really help.
For those of us who give the resources, we have some feeling that we’ve done something to help, albeit a distant hand offered through many brokers in-between. Detached.
I knew someone once who would get wild hairs to “help someone”. Once, at the end of a dinner among several people, she insisted we box up the many leftovers and give them to homeless folks someplace. We were in a town none of us knew, but we boxed up leftovers and ended up somewhere we probably shouldn’t have been, finding a way to share the leftovers with folks who seemed to want them.
At the time, I thought the exercise silly and of little value. It seemed to me that all we were doing was soothing someone’s guilty conscience about being more well-off than others, but we weren’t really doing anything effective to solve the problem of homelessness or feeding people. We all humored her, and she got to feel warm and fuzzy inside, like she’d really done something.
That’s how I felt at the time.
Looking back, I still see some amount of silliness in what we did that evening. But far less than I did at the time. She did, after all, reach out with real help to someone who needed it. She looked them in the eye and food went from her hand to theirs. Well actually, it was me looking them in the eye, and my hand doing the handoff, since it was clear we were not in the safest place in town. But still…
It was a true gesture of of personal help to someone. Did we spend more in gas delivering the help than the help was worth? Maybe, but I doubt the guy who ate well that night as a result of the gesture thought much about it. Or cared.
Our world is so fractured these days, and people are so insulated from each other. True interactions of deep engagement between one human and another are becoming more rare all across the globe. We see someone who needs help, but the only “reasonable” way we can offer help is to send a check to some relief agency, and hope a reasonable portion of the money is used in a wise way.
Mind you, I’m not arguing against relief agencies in any way – these folks do excellent work all across the globe, and the world needs them to continue their excellent missions.
What I think I’m arguing for is something extremely personal. True compassion and true giving come from the most personal and deep place in our heart. Most of us can’t really give that sort of help across the Pacific. Those opportunities for real and personal giving are much closer to us every single day.
I write a lot about the “circle of giving” thing. It’s different than a “ledger”, which is very binary and linear. In a ledger, I give a thing, and I get a checkmark for something I receive in return. It’s scorekeeping. When you keep score, it’s a transaction that ends as soon as the box in the ledger sheet is filled in.
The Giving Circle isn’t a ledger, but only works at a very personal level. Inside each of us is a deep and abiding compassion for others. At its most powerful, this compassion emerges as I reach my hand out to help someone else. As they reach their hand back to me, and accept the help, the circle becomes complete and grows. Their acceptance of my help “gives back” to me as a deep fulfillment of that desire within my heart to help others.
No ledger. No scorekeeping. Pure and simple sharing of compassion and gratitude, each feeding the other. A complete circle of giving.
Compassion that keeps a ledger feeds the ego. It’s a sense of pity for others who might have less good fortune.
Compassion that builds a Giving Circle is born of humility. Understanding the suffering of another allows the voice of our desire to give, and opens the heart to receive the gift of acceptance and gratitude in return. Giving becomes a privilege, and honor, and a gift received.
I’m a reasonable and practical person. There’s both good and bad in that. When it comes to “giving”, maybe it’s time we looked for “unreasonable” ways to help. Maybe we should look for opportunities to get in the car and deliver some food to somebody who needs it.
There’s nothing reasonable about true compassion.