I have a friend who was looking out for me. Knowing I had lost my job, he invited me to help him do some demo work on a construction project he was starting. "If anything," he said, "you'd get to knock the hell out of a wall or two to get out your frustrations." It was exactly what I needed, because I was still pretty peeved by my recent employment status.
I showed up early, got to work, and wasted no time busting down walls, tearing up floors and disposing all my anger and hatred into the dumpster out at the curb. With each load I dumped, I whispered a quiet goodbye to my past.
My friend thanked me for helping him and of course wanted to pay me for the job. I found it hard to justify accepting the money, because I felt like he did me a real favor by letting me pretend those walls were my old boss. But he insisted and paid me what he'd pay a day laborer. I took the cash and went home. After a long, hot shower I retreated and sat alone in the quiet of my basement office where I began to feel the emotional as well as the physical pain of the day wash over me.
I closed my eyes and could feel my shoulders tighten into big unwanted knots. I shook each time my rubbery arms I lifted the glass of water to my mouth. And whenever I thought of my old job, my lower back began to twist and pinch me most painfully. My body was clearly telling me I still needed to do more work on myself. I had to get in shape physically while working out my bitterness emotionally. Holding on to it only made me more twisted. Letting go would free the pain.
I can only imagine my friend went home that night with simular pain. His more physical than anything else. I am sure he slept well that night knowing he had done something nice for someone in need. The lesson I learned, something that is so well known but often overlooked, is that when we help people it actually makes us feel better about ourselves.
There's been research on the rewards of volunteering and helping others that is worth reading. The Los Angeles Times published a great article on the wonderful mental and physical health benefits of doing good for others.
Here is an excerpt, found at http://articles.latimes.com/2009/aug/10/health/he-themd10
Last week, while retrieving the fan from our basement closet, i noticed my foot steps made a sloshing sound. I stepped back and turned the light on to confirm my suspicion. Our 8 year old General Electric water heater was leaking. Two years after the warranty expired. Great.
This was the last thing I wanted to have to deal with while suffering through the summer's hottest day and as a single parent with a houseful of kids. If anything good could be made of a bad situation it was that I was able to stew in my frustration while the high-pitch sound roaring from my wet-vac muted the squeals of delightful children happy to be running amuck without much parental supervision.
Once the task of sucking up the water was pretty much complete, I sat down at my desk and began to do my homework online. I quickly studied the anatomy of the heater, and experimented with various D.I.Y. problem solving tricks of the trade. But to no avail. Defeated, I returned to my desk and started looking up plumbers.
If you ask me plumbers are like auto mechanics, if you don't know one personally or know what you're talking about, you are pretty much held captive at their mercy. While I lacked the necessary knowledge on the mechanics of plumbing, I still had my online peers to go to for support.
As you can imagine there were thousands of comments, reviews, opinions, all expressing their likes or dislikes of this company or that, the company who got the most positive reviews got my call.
They were friendly, like everyone said. And they were quick to respond to my call, like I had read on the post. Long story short, it took them no time at all to say..."it's broken. you need a new one." Really, no testing or tightening anything? No let's empty it to see where the problem is coming from? Nope, only "It's broken. You need a new one."
After the song and dance about how GE heaters are bad and that the kind he's going to give me are the best. And priced very well. Well, I found his quote to replace and install a new tank less than priced very well. And after pushing back, he shaved off $250. Yet something just didn't feel right. But I don't know much about plumbing other than "It's broke. You need a new one."
When they arrived (nearly an hour late) the next morning I was already armed with information and a price list that I found online. I showed it to the guy who said he paid nearly $550 for it, which included tax but not disposal fees. I was feeling pretty smug thinking this guy might be ripping me off, but at least someone is getting him back. But in less than an hour the old tank was gone and the new tank was boiling away. I couldn't help but ask how he was able to justify charging twice as much as a lawyer ($600) to do a job that required a the effort of unscrewing a few pipes and turning on a few knobs. Not happy with this, he responded with "I am a professional." I'm not sure what he meant but I assumed he meant professional con-artist.
But here's my point. Here I had a stranger in my home. Someone who came to help me in a difficult situation. And here I was, dedicated to treating strangers as if they were Jesus. Yet knowing Jesus would never charge a weeks pay for one hour of service I did what I thought was best, I called him a liar. I totally disregarded him as a human, who like myself was only trying to make a living. However he chooses to go about it is his choice. After a hearty exchange of colorful words and accusations, he pulled out the trump card. Holding up the paper that had my signature agreeing to the quoted price. I had no room to argue. And that's when I remembered my promise to this experiment.
While my credit card information was going through, he asked me where I got the prices for the tank. Here was my time to redeem myself. you see, this stranger and I had something in common. I didn't understand plumbing and he didn't understand how he could use the internet to his advantage.
I showed him how a post or a review could make or break his call volume, I showed him how finding parts beyond his typical supplier could increase his bottom line, and I showed him how D.I.Y. videos that are posted are revealing the trade secrets that have kept prices at a disadvantage. The consumer is fighting back using the internet, and those like him who don't embrace it are going to be shocked to know that they will soon be extinct. We exchanged private business cards and with any luck I can make my money back by getting his company dialed into the 21st Century. While I was still out too much money for a new water heater, Iperhaps the next person he responds to might benefit better than just "It's broke. You need a new one."
Does taking care of your responsibilities count towards doing good in the world? Or is it just another thing one has to do in order to stay in this world? I don't know if the question makes sense. But I know it must have some kind of meaning.
Each day there is stuff that has to get done around the house. And since I am now a stay at home dad, I get up every day and do them. Feed the kids, take on the yard work, look for work, fix things, clean things, change things, and so on. And each night, when the kids are tucked into bed, I feel as though I have accomplished something in the world when my mental to-do list is all checked-off. Exhausted and tired from the day, I can close my eyes feeling good as I drift off to sleep thinking about what the new day will bring. But that's not always the case.
More often than I wish, I have those slacking days when nothing gets done. And by nightfall I'm often left feeling empty, ashamed and disappointed. I've also noticed on those days, I have a terrible time going to sleep that night. It seems "not doing" affects me in more ways than one. My lack of sleep often results in a change of mental and spiritual attitude, which then often leads to doing less good and more bad.
I don't know what to do other than begin each day with the resolve that I will set out to do at least one thing that will help make the world a better place for all, even if that is my own personal world and making my children better and my wife happier by sharing the responsibilities that have often fallen on her shoulders when I was at work.
Perhaps tonight, now that I have shared this with you, I will sleep soundly and wake up refreshed and ready to walk my talk.
This was a post from a friend on Facebook. "The "future" is an infinite succession of "presents", and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory." A quote by Howard Zinn, a playwright, historian, and social activist who challenged the status quo. Take a minute and think about it seriously. Then learn more about his work and see if it inspires you. http://howardzinn.org
I love rebels and taking on the status quo. Yet, I have never known why. Despite my conservative upbringing, I always found myself siding with the underdog. Perhaps I am one and just never knew it. This quote however got me thinking that I am beginning to move down the right path. siding with one of history's greatest rebels who gave up his life for the most noble and glorious of causes. To save mankind from mankind.
So, I'm at the Church pool this morning for kids swim lessons when an old pre-school family shows up. Not really the kind of stranger I'm looking to be kind to, but since I don't really know her beyond the fact that I could pick her out of a police line-up I believe it's justifiable.
As it turns out, she and her husband have both been out of work since March. Between the two of them, they have had only one job interview. And if all goes well with this one interview, and I pray that it will, they will be moving with their two adopted children to my old home state.
Putting my words into action, I asked if I could help in any way. Taken by surprise, she asked if I still had friends or contacts there; someone who would know a good realtor who could help them find a home in an area with great schools. I said yes. As soon as I got home I posted a message on Facebook to my circle of friends.
My first random act of kindness isn't going to help nail the interview but if it all works out as they hope, it just might make the transition that much easier. Who knows, it might spark a new friendship or reunite old friends. Either way, I am glad I could be helpful providing a little peace of mind
Lesson one: Helping someone doesn't have to be difficult. In fact, I suggest you begin by taking small steps. Start with something simple that you know can easily achieve without too much stress. I'm a baby now, but I know that with each small step I take I will eventually be running into to wonderful goodness.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”