Christmas and the whole greetings season is gone past us and I wonder, where does all the “good will to all mankind” goes? In this time of year everyone gets in synch with thoughts of giving, caring, empathizing, but they don’t seem to last. I dare to say that it lasts until the morning hangover of the 1st day of the year.
A question asked by a reporter* made me think, is it possible to actually truly care about the big human tribe? Could we really care equally about strangers as we care about our closest ones? He asks this literally. Imagine this he says, “Say I bought a fancy pair of shoes for my son. In light of the one-tribe calculus of interests, I should probably give these shoes to someone who doesn’t have any. I do research and find a child in a poor part of Chicago who needs shoes to walk to school every day. So, I take them off my son (replacing them with Walmart tennis shoes) and head off to the impoverished Westside. On the way, I see a newspaper story about five children who are malnourished in Cambodia. Now I can’t give the shoeless Chicago child the shoes, because I should sell the shoes for money and use the money to get food for the five malnourished kids. On my way to sell the shoes, I remember that my son has an important job interview for a clean-water nonprofit organization and if he gets the job, he’ll be able to help save whole villages from contaminated water. But he won’t get the job if he shows up in Walmart tennis shoes. As I head back home, it dawns on me that for many people in the developing world, Walmart tennis shoes are truly luxurious when compared with burlap sack shoes, and since needs always trump luxuries I’ll need to sell the tennis shoes too; and on, and on, and on.”
He has a point, it’s not really possible nowadays to distribute equally all of our belongings. There are too many social differences in our society and other societies beyond ours. But to live only by caring just for our closest one, does not make things better. We can share what we have that will not be missed, be it money, time, or affection, and with such actions we can make a difference, right? The opposite happens so often! Someone who is very unhappy with their life, “vomits” on you all their frustrations because you didn’t choose to run in traffic as fast as them. You’ll be upset, and you’ll share your thoughts of frustration and they’ll ripple through till shore. Other people will feel them and share.
So in terms of being a good citizen, meaning that you’re aware of your surroundings and you care about your community, we all could be good citizens if we stepped off our busy bee lives, and gave just a bit of our time helping out. That’s not too much to ask, yet, are you doing it?
How can one really feel that Buddha-like compassion for all creatures? Most thinkers will say that the way to do this is to start feeling as if the entire human race is our extended family, but maybe as Cicero said, “society and human fellowship will be best served if we confer the most kindness on those with whom we are most closely associated.”
Most studies on Happiness confirm that “the most important element in a good life (eudaimonia) is a close family and friendship ties — ties that bind. These are not digital Facebook friends nor are they needy faraway strangers, but robust proximate relationships that you can count on one or two hands. (...) As Graham Greene reminds us, “one can’t love humanity, one can only love people.”
Who are you loving? Could you love even more people?
*The Myth of Universal Love - http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/
By STEPHEN T. ASMA