Et al. presents: On strangers, part two
“For it is in giving that we receive.” ― Francis of Assisi
Last week, I wrote about why we should appreciate strangers like Starbucks baristas and cab drivers. But what about strangers we might never meet--the tens of thousands of homeless in New York City, for example? And what about the needy and impoverished outside of our immediate vicinity, in developing third world countries? If we have an opportunity to serve them, should we take it? And why?
It’s one thing to be kind to people we know. Our friends and family might not be the easiest to love sometimes, but they are definitely the ones we feel most comfortable showing kindness to. Being nice to strangers we don’t know feels less natural. But showing kindness to strangers we have never met is doubtlessly the most difficult.
So why should we do it? Well, serving others can be very fulfilling. Doing good is a positive human experience, and provides a certain kind of satisfaction that can’t be obtained any other way. But this is a very selfish reason to do good, which seems to be contrary to the whole point.
I can’t really make any very compelling arguments here without appealing to some sense of absolute morality. We should do what we can to bring joy to other people, friends and strangers alike, because it’s simply and objectively the right thing to do. From a religious perspective, the Bible is brimming with exhortations to do good. Jesus frequently emphasized provision for the poor and needy, and in Luke he challenges a man to throw a feast not for his wealthy friends but for “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”
So there seems to be a “why.” But what about a “how”? It’s important that we’re both realistic and effective in our service. Obviously, we can’t all dedicate our lives to solving world hunger. But most everyone has the ability to volunteer some of their time periodically to worthwhile causes being spearheaded by people who have dedicated their lives. We must also be attentive to the organizations we give our time and resources to. Do some background research on a group you’re interested in – are they honest and transparent? Are the services they put their resources toward sensible and effective? Not every organization with an idealistic vision and smooth fundraising necessarily deserves attention and support. But find the ones that do, and give what you can of your time and resources to fuel their vision.
Life is full of dividing lines we have drawn between ourselves: culture, race, religion, borders--the list goes on. But we will always be bound together by our common humanity, a uniting identity granted us by the Maker above. We should feel kindred with people we have never met, because beneath all the things that make them different, they’re still people. And like my brother pointed out in last week’s column, every person has a story that we have an opportunity to join in a positive way. They all matter and deserve our compassion--the cashier at Starbucks, the homeless man on the street corner, the Ukrainian fearing oppression, the Ugandan thirsting for clean water et al. It ought not be a question of whether we should care, but rather a question of how we can best care.
For some good ways to get started, here are a few great organizations that would cherish your volunteerism and financial support:
Question for further pondering:
1. Can we give or serve in excess? If so, where do we draw the line?
2. How should we balance our service to the needy in our country with our service to the needy in the rest of the world?
3. What are some other organizations or methods to serve those in need?