He who gives when he is asked has waited too long
Immediately following the devastating earthquake, the world came rushing to the aid of Haiti. After all, people are generous by nature and eagerly and willingly help those that are obviously in need. But often there are others who suffer silently and go unnoticed. Strangely, the needs of people in far-off lands may become more known than those near at hand. Members of our own family, coworkers, and countless others that we interact with on a daily basis have needs that we somehow overlook.
Because they are not trapped under collapsed buildings, their needs do not scream out for our attention. Yet, many are crushed by the weight of low self-esteem and a lack of confidence. They feel unappreciated, unloved, and unsure of themselves. Some are out of touch with the grandeur of life. They are lost souls, failing to understand that life is a magnificent adventure. They are wounded warriors in need of help. They need to be encouraged to get up after falling. They need to be inspired and uplifted. Here’s where you come in. You can make a difference in their lives. And when you do so, you make a difference to life itself.
What can you do? Recognize their accomplishments with praise. Listen to what they have to say with interest. Don’t scold, but smile. Mend their broken spirits with kindness. Remember, no seed ever sees the flower it will become. No one you meet ever sees the magnificent being they can become. That’s why your presence is needed. You can nurture their spirit with inspiration and encourage them to grow into all they can become.
Some people moan, “I NEED to know what my purpose in life is. Why am I here? How can I find my purpose? It’s all so confusing.” It may become confusing when we focus on what WE need, but the answer clearly appears when we focus on what THE WORLD needs. It needs our help. We are here to act, for we are life’s way of getting things done. We are here to contribute to life, to make a difference.
You must not underestimate the significance of your contribution. For when you pick up the torch and lead the way, others will follow, passing on the torch to more people. Each day we can start a chain of positive action or ominously break a chain started by another. That’s what happens each day. We either contribute to despair or hope. Which is it that the world needs? Noam Chomsky’s remarks may help us answer that question: “If you assume there is no hope, you guarantee there is no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, there are opportunities to change things, there’s a chance you may contribute to the making of a better world. The choice is yours.”
We all want to become successful. The good news is it is extremely easy to become so. You see, if we measure success by the contributions we make to life, we can easily play an important role. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) explains, “Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve… You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
You don’t have to do anything earth-shattering to make a difference. You will find the small stuff will often have the biggest effect. A smile, a cheerful expression, a kind word, a little encouragement, undivided attention, these are some of the steps you can easily take every day. The smallest of steps can be significant, for when you contribute to the self-esteem and self- confidence of another human being; you are offering a priceless gift.
There is a Sufi story about a prince who went deer hunting alone. When he came face to face with a deer, he raised his bow, but before he could shoot, the magical deer spoke to him. The deer asked, “Is this why you are here?” That is, is this why the prince is here on earth, to engage in trivial pastimes? Each day we need to stop, become aware of what we are doing, and ask ourselves, “Is this why I am here?” Then ask yourself, “What can I do today that would make a difference in my life and the lives of those around me?” When trying this for the first time, you may be filled with self-doubt, believing you won’t or can’t make much difference. But the fact is, until you believe you are special you won’t be. And you are special, for no one else is like you.
After all, we are all unique, with different experiences, talents, and strengths. No one else can contribute to life exactly as you can, so if you fail to act, you will be denying the world your unique gift.
We are here to do great things; mainly, to relieve the suffering of others through acts of kindness. We should view each interaction as an opportunity to make a difference. It is within our power to make everyone who meets us feel better. Each morning we should wake up with anticipation and excitement because of the many chances we will have to contribute to life. As Norman B. Rice elegantly expressed it, “Dare to reach out your hand into the darkness, to pull another hand into the light.”
WHY SHOULD WE CARE ABOUT CONTRIBUTING?
1. To be part of something greater than ourselves. Here’s how others have explained it.
“To be a man is to feel that one’s own stone contributes to building the edifice of the world.” (Antoine de Saint Erupery, 1900~1944)
“We are not here to merely make a living. We are here to enrich the world, and we impoverish ourselves if we forget this errand.”
(Woodrow T. Wilson, 1856~1924)
“The purpose of life is not to be happy – but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you have lived at all.” (Leo Rosten, 1908~1997)
“There is no greater calling than to serve your fellow men. There is no greater contribution than to help the weak. There is no greater satisfaction than to have done it well.” (Walter Reuther,
2. We do it for ourselves. Mohandas Gandhi (1869~1948) was laboriously serving the people of a remote village when he was asked why he was doing it.
“Are you doing it for humanitarian reasons?” he was asked.
“Not at all,” Gandhi answered, “I am here to serve no one else than myself, to find my own self-realization through the service of these village folk.”
Every time we help another, we help ourselves, for when we dig another out of their troubles, we find a place to bury our own.
3. To return to life the many blessings it freely offers. As another has said, “We have all drank from wells we did not dig and have been warmed by fires we did not build.” So, isn’t it only right that we give back? Robert L. Payton adds, “We are temporary stewards with an obligation to manage the inheritance in such a way that it can be passed along even better and stronger than it was when we received it.”
4. Not to give back is not to live. Or, as it was put by Eleanor Roosevelt (1884~1962), “When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.” Ethel Percy Andrus (1884~1967) agrees: “The human contribution is the essential ingredient. It is only in the giving of oneself to others that we truly live.”
5. To leave a legacy. Albert Pike (1809~1891) clarifies: “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
6. To experience peace and happiness. World renowned expert on stress, Hans Selye (1907~1982), said, “If you want to live a long life, focus on making contributions.”
7. To be a role model. Many lost souls are still trying to figure out why they are here. Your exemplary behavior may finally help them realize the simple truth that we are here to help one another.
“There are certain things that are fundamental to human fulfillment;” says Stephen R. Covey, “the essence of these needs is captured in the phrase ‘to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy’. The need to live is our physical need for such things as food, clothing, shelter, economical well-being, health. The need to love is our social need to relate to other people, to belong, to love and to be loved. The need to learn is our mental need to develop and to grow. And the need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution.”
Contributing to life satisfies all these needs while helping to build a better world. In a word, the measure of a man or woman is the degree to which they make a difference in the lives of those they touch. Don’t you agree? May our goal be to see the needs of others, recognize our obligation, and become the solution. But we mustn’t wait too long before we act, and he who gives when he is asked has waited too long. Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something. So, act like you make a difference. Because you do.
Be diligent in your service,
To work below your potential
Is a betrayal of self
And an insult to life.
(A variation of verse 16, chapter 4, Pirke Avot)