My : Happiness :Posted: May 18, 2015 Filed under: Kindness, Meditation, Mindfulness, Yoga | Tags: Begging, Bliss, Charity, compassion, Giving, kindness, love, meditation, Mindfulness, Omaha, Omaha Gives, Seva, Seva For the Heartland, yoga, Zen 17 Comments
This is my letter to the world – That never wrote to me-
I used to get upset with strangers who asked me for money, projecting onto to them an inner struggle I felt towards myself for having such a difficult time telling them “not today friend.” Yet each time I’m asked, and with the Omaha Gives campaign coming up shortly, I wonder again, about what it truly means to be compassionate, and my recent encounter with a homeless man in the Old Market has caused me to reflect once again how I continue to fail to live up to my aspiration to consistently manifest compassion, of which I know I am capable of.
It’s not that I lack compassion for the homeless and charitable organizations, just that, my compassion for them remains only a fleeting feeling. I don’t believe giving them money represents the most compassionate action I could take. I say this because the most compassionate action I could take would be to introduce them to compassion and kindness, a practice I genuinely believe has the power to help anyone, in any circumstance become whole, but I don’t do that either because it is woefully self-serving and akin to proselytizing, which I loathe.
I’m not just writing about and discussing homelessness and charitable giving with you. I’m talking about the part of me that believes selfless service is possible and that a selfless person would be overflowing with compassion. I’m writing about the part of me that keeps asking if there really is any greater value we can produce as human beings than to help another person to become happier. Because every time I turn down a homeless person’s request for money, ignore all the insistent ads about Omaha Gives … What I think to myself isn’t that I should have given them what they wanted or desire, but rather, exploring compassion would have given them what they need.
What am I trying to explain when I mention exploring compassion? For me, compassion requires both empathy and sympathy. Empathy involves responding to another person’s emotions with emotions that are similar to your own. Sympathy entails feeling regret for another person’s suffering. Compassion, on the other hand, is caring about another person’s happiness as if it were your own. The struggle I have with my very own definition, is how easily it causes me to mistakenly infer that compassion therefore means: Giving people what they want, well, just because they are bothering me at the market or begging via an online ad or an endless stream of emails.
I routinely find myself incapacitated by the thought of disappointing anyone. And though giving people or local organizations what they want helps, I feel it does not make them happy, it does so only transiently and usually leaves them unimproved, denying them the motivation to take on growth, and in turn, producing new challenges. Also, people quite often want what isn’t good for them. If our aim is to help others become happy and content, then we must apply our own judgment to the actions we’re asked to take on their behalf.
Compassion and kindness – Seva – remains my true path in life, although one I’m able to walk upon far less often than I want. When asked for money by strangers, my typical response is: “I don’t have any cash or change with me – Sorry.” But this is often not even true. I’m certain the reason I lie ultimately comes down to cowardice, though why I’m afraid to share with them the truth is not yet entirely clear to me.
I’m writing about the part of me that keeps asking if there really is any greater value we can produce as human beings than to help another person to become happier.
To which I wonder if the greater value is in teaching someone else how to summon happiness in themselves, by themselves?
I fall back on an adapted version of the adage about give a man a pan of lasagna and he eats for a meal or two. Teach him how to procure the ingredients necessary to make and then how to make the lasagna, and he could eat for life. Give him the means by which he could procure a lasagna and he will eat for as long as those means exist. Encourage and then demand that he earn the means by which he could procure lasagna for himself and he’d never have to bother you again. But he may or may not be happy. And, he may or may not always wish to rely just on himself. He might like some company every now and again.
Holy maraschino cherries. That’s precisely where society lies, one that doesn’t encourage sustainably and realistically living off the land. ‘Tis fine to help his fellow man when he’s run out of sauce for lasagna or wishes to broaden his culinary horizons or he needs a new stove. When does lending a hand stop being “helpful” and start enabling learned helplessness?
Balance is important, moderation is key. Never be too proud to accept assistance and never be too self-absorbed as to not offer it (solicited or not?), but where is that line? Should there be one even?
Balance and tempered emotions are indeed important when we discuss exploring the ways in which we can teach (<—Ugh, lets try share with others) others how to find happiness. And I love the heartfelt wisdom and kindness you share! The topic we are discussing would best be shared making some home made lasagna for sure 🙂
What would you like to do instead? How would you like to respond ? What would being compassionate look like in those situations?
Often at times I like to offer a meal or a ride to a homeless shelter instead. It pains me though that I cannot do this all of the time … This is where I am torn, caught between emotions. Compassion for me at times, can be rather stern with a dash of awkwardness thrown in for good measure. It truly is hard saying no to someone in need 😦
When you figure out how to lead a horse to water AND make him drink, let me know.
Having been someone who needed help, then someone completely devoted to helping the still sick and suffering, I can tell you this, my brother: You can’t make him drink. Her either. Until I was ready to quit, the only thing I wanted was for someone to give me $50,000,000 so I could go down in flames in style. Now you could have given me every penny and all I’d have done with it was liquor myself to oblivion.
If you want to overflow with compassion, offer the next beggar you see, dinner. Not “I’ll give you ten bucks of you go eat”, no. “Come and sup with me, my treat.” You’ll be turned down virtually every time.
The one who says, “Gladly, thank you for your kindness”… Now THAT’S the one to overflow with compassion for.
I have actually been turned down before to treat someone to dinner, nothing special mind you – McDonald’s, Subway or whatever. The look on their face says it all when I turn and walk away … What got me going on this was this past weekend, a man not much older than you and I had a sign reading that he was a recent homeless veteran who fell on hard times. What really hit home for me was how he asked: ” I’m sorry for putting you in a position to ask for some change to get me through the day …” The sincerity was raw and clearly visible on his face. Long story short – We chatted for a bit and I finally talked him into going to my local American Legion post to get something to eat and some help. As always, its awesome having you over to share your thoughts – Thank you!
And thank you for posting your experience, my friend.
The burden of the world is not for a single person to carry. Sometimes I believe that the reason why poverty and sickness exist is for the rest of humanity to unite. That the Universe has to let these acts of sorrow happen for others to see and finally feel compassion.
It doesn’t always happen. Here and there are organizations who intend to help the less fortunate. But how many of us join and get involved and extend a helping a hand? It is nearing half of the year already. How many of us have participated in such activities – whether it’s a community campaign, or raising stocks for food banks, or a known health research cure thingy, or even just a karma yoga class where all proceeds go to a charitable organization… ask around, even in this blog… how many have gotten themselves involved to help? In even just a single event from January until today.
You do what you can as each day comes. And the rest of humanity need to do so as well. It’s a big world, even when you talk only of Omaha. A few change from your pocket will not change the fate of a single homeless person. I always fear where the change will be used for. Reach out to others to help you help these folks. Compassion isn’t about offering a few change; it’s being able to touch someone’s life for the better.
I babbled – hahaha! 😉
You? Babble? Never 🙂
As long as we feel separate we will struggle with giving what is “just right” for those “less fortunate”.
Love and understanding is the greatest gift for us to give each other.
I read your comment moments before heading out for my morning walk … Thank you for filling my heart with love and understanding to start the day 🙂
Be inspired and do take care!
I think… the difference is, as I do not like being approached for money by charities, is to find your own way with it all. I give my time by helping local community, I adopted my cat from the rescue centre and plan to run half marathon for charity and plan to become a selfless server through yoga.
People shouldn’t push this on you, homelessness is another matter though. How to deal with it? I am not sure… but if you are what you write, you will make a difference.
My sincerest apologies for the untidy and late reply … This is a topic close to my heart and I – Thank You – for your continued kindness and support.
[…] My : Happiness : → […]
I do occasionally write the disconnected check, but spontaneous giving feels better. I friend recently started a 5K to support a small town food bank and asked runner friends to bring a nonperishable item to the race. The date didn’t work for me, but before I forgot, I purchased a bag of boxed and canned goods to send along with her.
A more spontaneous moment was standing in line in a downtown drug store behind a mother with a child in the cart, clearly doing the best she could. The clerk announced the bill total and that she was $.91 short. As she reached in the cart to remove a food item, “I’ve got it” escaped from my mouth as my hand opened my change purse. She met my eyes with a quiet ‘thank you.’
There but for circumstances, luck, grace, that life could be mine.
On the other hand, do I usually tell a fib when I am approached for money on the street? Yeah, I don’t feel good about it but I don’t have an answer to an alternative.
My apologies in advance for the late response and thank you the powerful, yet gentle reminder of what an open and loving heart can do. No doubt, your kind actions set forth a chain of events that carry on to this day. I hope you and your family had a peaceful Memorial Day weekend, be well this afternoon and do take care 🙂
How about “I wish to keep my change” and one doesn’t have to justify why. Simple, true, just plainly honest. I will always remember the day when my father refused to help by giving a few pennies to a homeless man, it puzzled me he didn’t assist someone in need. I was too young to understand. Noticing my perplexity, he explained to me that one couldn’t help everybody all the time. It was a fair answer. Further more, he told me he preferred to do it consistently for an organism of his choice and I found that honourable. However, always refusing to give some coins isn’t the answer, reason for which I love the story above, instinctively making up for the lacking cash for someone at the till short of a coupe of cents or dollars…. sometimes it just feels right to give and sometimes wrong. Why, I don’t always know. But if ever I pass by someone begging and felt like I could have given a little to someone maybe to sick or handicapped to work and dismissed him or her, I now turn back and give. Don’t get me wrong, it is not about having a good conscience, just more doing what feels right. And it’s hard to never lie, but worth every effort to always speak the truth no matter what. Thanks for writing beautiful posts.