Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Rich Man

It was a rainy night and John Records was driving up north from Golden Gate Bridge and he saw someone on the side of the street seeking a ride. John was not very sure, but nevertheless he stopped and asked the stranger where he wanted to go and found out that the stranger’s destination was in the same direction that he was heading. The stranger hopped in and along the ride they struck up a conversation. John learnt that he was homeless and was trying to get to COTS, an organization in Petaluma for the shelterless, before their dinner hours end. Eventually they made it to COTS and the stranger thanked John for the ride. John stuck around to see what happens. The stranger ran up to the desk and enquired if he had made it in time for the dinner. Another homeless man standing around there told him that he had missed it. The stranger stood there in disappointment knowing that he would have to spend rest of the cold rainy night in hunger. Seeing the disappointment on his face, the other homeless man said, “I have a hardboiled egg in my pocket. I can share that with you…”

One of the meanings of the word “rich” in the dictionary is “having wealth or abundant possessions”. We generally assume that people who have lot of material wealth are rich, but what if they are poor in spirit. The sense of void and inadequacy in their lives perhaps drives them to fill it with more worthless junk that they really don’t need. For someone viewing from outside they seem to be enjoying their life of affluence, but hardly is their cup overflowing. I would say the homeless man in the story who was willing to share his egg is far richer than many people we know.

We are all in this rat race called life, where we are always in a hurry to get somewhere or get something done. We all started out with dreams in our hearts of doing some great things in life. For lot of us, perhaps, life did not turn out to be the way we dreamed it. Most of things that we have earned are a fruit of hard work and tenacity. So we have a sense of entitlement towards where we are and what we have achieved. But in my opinion, inspite of the hard work and merit, we are a product of what I call “rising up to the moment”. Life presented us with circumstances, opportunities, moments that we seized and made the best of. Where we are is the result of a string of such events. But there are many unfortunate people in this world who live in circumstances where these moments don’t present itself. So I feel it becomes a moral responsibility for us who are fortunate to share our time, talent or treasure and lend a helping hand. Some of you may argue there is so much poverty in this world and that someone puny like you and I really cannot impact it. Didn't some of us set up out to do great things in life? Perhaps we will, perhaps we won’t, but deriving inspiration from what Mother Theresa said, even if not everyone of us will do great things in life, we all can do small things with great love.

Now, even if you don’t agree with the moral responsibility argument, do it for your own self anyway, because it is well documented that lending a helping hand can elevate mood in most people. This phenomenon is called “the helper's high", a euphoric feeling, followed by a longer period of calm, experienced after performing a kind act. This has been assessed biologically in brain imaging studies and has also been looked at in research on endorphins. So do it and you will discover that small helping actions, like lending a hand to a neighbor or a stranger can be refreshing. Oscar Wilde put it, echoing Plato, "To be good is to be in harmony with oneself." Thoreau wrote, "Goodness is the only investment that never fails." So just do it!

By the way, John Records who gave the ride to the homeless man in my story above went on to join COTS, Petaluma and is now the Executive Director there doing some remarkable work.

Disclosure: Story of the homeless man was narrated by John Records.

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