The Greatest Nation

“If you want happiness for a lifetime, help other people.” – Derek

I live in Indiana and the Because We Can run will take place down the entire length of this State. You probably don’t hear much about Indiana unless something sports-ing is going on or a whole bunch of drivers are all turning left at the same time, but we were very much in the news lately…for all the wrong reasons. You probably heard more about Indiana this last week than you ever wanted to hear. So did we.

Unfortunately, some of the bigotry that comprises isolated, often rural, communities made itself known in national news. The backlash was swift, but the backlash to the backlash was even swifter. After the pizza restaurant temporarily closed their doors (probably regretting saying what they did), right wing pundit, Glenn Beck, stepped in and facilitated a donation campaign to this pizza restaurant, showing support for their bigotry and trying to convince them to re-open. This donation campaign, facilitated by selfish anger and internet enabled mass media, brought in over 842 thousand dollars in just over a week.

$842,000.

This turned out to be the second largest fundraising effort in the history of GoFundMe, accumulating more funds for this pizza shop than raised for cancer patients, victims of the bombings during the Boston Marathon, and many other causes for individuals in legitimate need. LEGITIMATE need.

I don’t want to spend too much time on the bigotry of these owners and how specific social dynamics came together to warrant this response, but rather to use this circumstance to point something out.

Many people have disposable income.

Much of this disposable income is needed for various financial responsibilities, whether immediate or in the future, but still, we often have enough to spend on recreation, impulse purchases, or emotionally charged fundraising campaigns. And that’s great…that we live in a culture of excess that affords many of us this luxury…but often this luxury is taken for granted, without consideration or appreciation.

I, for most of my life, have been no different.

I’ve almost always lived under poverty guidelines, but that didn’t mean I was struggling. I could still purchase items that I didn’t need or spend money that wasn’t necessary, without too much trouble down the line. But my current health situation really struck me as a wakeup call, not only sending me into a chasm of financial absurdity, but appreciating the support that has been offered as I’ve worked to keep my pre-cancer life intact. Many don’t have this luxury.

I was aided through various benefits held by friends after my surgery, allowing me to pay my mortgage, provide for my son, put good food in the fridge, and take care of all the financial issues that could have added additional stress to my already stressful situation. I will, unfortunately, never be able to repay the many people who contributed to my benefits, nor will I ever be able to sufficiently express how important those funds were.

What did happen, however, is that I developed not only an appreciation for the support I was given, but became inspired to return the favor as best I could. Sometimes it was through donating finances directly to the causes of my friends, while other times it was conducting my own fundraisers for important organizations. Speaking selfishly…I was caught off guard by how great it felt to be a part of this type of action. It felt good knowing that I was in a position to give a few dollars to a friend who really needed help, and it felt GREAT knowing that I could convince others to raise significant money for larger organizations that aided many, many individuals. I felt like…something deeper, more rewarding turned on in me.

I felt as if I was no longer taking my first-world financial luxury for granted (even when I have none of it), but began considering the impact I could have on others and how each dollar or each able-bodied opportunity could help.

I don’t know to explain it better than the quote I supplied by Derek at the top of this post…that helping others, directly, and tangibly, brings great happiness. Helping others passionately, has turned something on inside me, has given me a great sense of comfort and reward, and added another degree of depth and passion to my life. It has also shown me what is truly important in life, in what brings an unshakeable satisfaction with my days.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to help in the past…but it has always seem to have been momentary, on the fringes of my normal activity, and maybe, just not measurable. My sense of action has often been through activism, pushing for social change, which I still greatly admire and respect, but often left me grasping, unaware of the effect I was actually having. It was also driven by a hatred for injustice and not so much a joy and care for others….which I think is just fine. Still, this new experience I’m having with aiding others is different, maybe more mature, definitely more rewarding. It feels more central to my life than just a fleeting, feel-good action.

I don’t mean to pat myself on the back here, as if to say, “Hey! Check me out..I’m awesome!” Not at all. I just feel inspired, to not only continue this new experience, but to share and show others just how great it can be, to really step outside of yourself and engage with others in legitimate need, and aid them.

But not in the Memories Pizza kind of way. Oh hell no. That’s not about helping others…that’s about making a statement against homosexuality, about putting your money where your fear and small mindedness is.

No, I’m talking about the potential we all have, sometimes temporary and sometimes consistent, to constantly aid and support each other, whether that is directly through friends and family or on a larger, less personal scale through organizations doing the same work with more resources. And I think that is what has struck me most about what I’ve learned through my own cancer experience, that we, as capable humans, have so much potential we are wasting.

We have so much potential to be greater, but we’ve been restricted by so many behaviors and legitimate obstacles that it becomes increasingly harder to see through the blinders and change our lives. And that’s absurd…and sad…because there is so much each one of us can do to be genuinely better people, to stop being workers and bosses and abusers and users, but to become caring individuals who reward others and are rewarded in return.

Speaking financially, we have the ability to look at every dollar and figure out how to maximize it, how to stop thinking about what we WANT in the moment and start thinking about what others may NEED. But I’m not going to tell you, “Don’t buy that latte every week and give to someone else,” because I know that’s not how we are hard-wired (plus…it’s coffee), but rather to say, “If you have the ability to buy yourself a latte through the week, then you also have the ability to aid someone else as well.” Again, it could be a friend recently diagnosed with an illness. It could be someone who lost their belongings in a fire, suffered a financial blow in a car wreck, has a sick child, etc. Or it could be a cause you are drawn to and an organization that has the means to effect change for the good.

I may sound like an plea commercial here, but I’m ok with that. It’s still important to say all this. Because this isn’t just about helping others, it’s about helping ourselves individually, by feeling good about ourselves, by using our abilities to help others, and experiencing what that sort of reward is like. I know, as I have offered help in the past, and am now in the middle of this fundraiser…that it feels damn good. I simply want to share that feeling, to convince any readers of this post to be the type of people, and communities, and default behavior, that thinks of other beings to the same degree they think themselves.

It bears repeating…”If you want happiness for a lifetime, help other people.” (“people” being all sentient creatures)

www.stayclassy.org/becausewecanrun

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