Mean Ol’ World

Don’t mistake activity with achievement-

The importance of selfless service can be found deeply rooted in our local communities.

My heart has been wanting to share my dedication to selfless service for some time now. Recent world events, a few long bike rides and the time I spent attending the Citizens Academy for Omaha’s Future has allowed me to collect my thoughts to present to you here. I have so much to share with you, I have finally decided that now is the time to pour my heart out. There still are some lingering thoughts that trouble me: Is it truly possible to give to others without expecting anything in return? To cast my pride and ego to the side? And of course, yesterdays post addressing compassion.

Recent world events in Nepal and locally have got me thinking about the “behind the scenes” act of charity. I think we can all agree that on its face, charitable giving is fairly noncontroversial. Agree?!? Someone is in need, we sense their pain, and we lend a helping hand in return. Over the years, we have developed the ability to respond to subtle cues in others, not only intuitively, but emotionally. We are literally tuned to feel empathy, to experience someone else’s feelings as our own. Our capacity for empathy is so deeply ingrained in our being, that we respond not just to actual suffering of living beings but to representations of suffering as well. Remember in the Star Wars movie when Luke Skywalker had his hand cut off? Old Yeller anyone?!?

Charity, empathy and harmony are in our genes. And yet charitable action, as personal habit, has some dubious, counterproductive features. First, our charitable impulse tends to be reactive, not proactive – The homeless man on the street and the charitable begging of Omaha Gives. We are “all-stars” when responding to the disaster that recently happened, not at preparing for the one yet to happen. How many of those who donated recently to Nepal’s victims would have contributed similarly to an effort to bring their antiquated infrastructure up to code years before the quakes ever happened?

Because we depend on raw emotion to spur us to give, our giving is susceptible to the many distortions that beset perception at hand. Every second of every day around the world, there are countless people in need, hungry and wounded and homeless. Just like those in Nepal, here in Omaha and a community near you. They are quite frankly, non-events; tedious and boring, and boredom does not elicit the empathy required to motivate charitable giving.

While charitable giving will always be necessary, I argue that, morally, if the life of a devastated family in Nepal is really as worthy as the life of a family in Omaha, Nebraska, then that life should not depend on whether someone in West Omaha rolled out of bed in a charitable mood; should not depend on the viral appeal of the Omaha Gives media blitz. Should not depend on whether that family’s suffering has been successfully bundled into a sufficiently sexy narrative about the latest “spectacular” disaster on another continent.

Daily Meditation:

Instead of patting ourselves with compassion and kindness on our backs, as we click “donate now” for the poor people in Nepal, we should ask real questions about our own individual process of compassion, and whether better ways exist to harness it for genuine, love soaked good. Through further soul-searching, I found that you must be in a selfless frame of mind before engaging in selfless service, or your efforts may be tainted and off-putting.

CultFit Giving

5 Comments on “Mean Ol’ World”

  1. provomaha says:

    Well stated. If you give or act charitably in expectations of reward, then you are only buying self-satisfaction. However, it is difficult when some of the sacred texts talk of reward for such action, if not now, then in the afterlife. How many of can therefore truly say it is not in anticipation of return.

    • CultFit says:

      My pithy answer to the second part of your thoughtful comment would be, and we are stepping into murky waters to say the least … Being. Simply being fully present in this beautiful moment, no matter the “reward” or being “shamed” into awkwardly doing good in the world. If you would like to meet up for a ride sometime? Just let me know, Thursday nights at Omaha Bike Company? Roll out around 6pm – Hope to see you there!

  2. katelon says:

    I read a great book years ago by Robert Ornstein and a co-author, which explained why we don’t think in long term. Our brains receive so much input every second so we are wired to respond to crisis. That is our operating systems default. So they posited that this default setting information should be part of our early education so we can learn to over-ride it and go beyond it to be pro-active and think in long term.

    • CultFit says:

      Thank you once again for your kindness and for sharing such a wonderful book! I spent the morning looking it up online and reading a little bit, enough to go ahead and order it 🙂 Thank you!

      • katelon says:

        I went through years of reading Robert’s books. I asked to use a few of his diagrams in the corporate wellness/empowerment workshops I used to teach and he said no?! My opinion of him went down from there, but I still do appreciate the work he did.

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