Sunday, August 2, 2015

An Analogy For Helping Others

In truth, the provider of charity is blessed at least as much as the receiver.  But I’d like to offer this analogy for helping others, a perspective I hope you will consider.

Please close your eyes and imagine with me. Wait, that won’t work because then you can’t read this. Never mind, just play along. You are alone in a small cheaply built two-person canoe. You are paddling a wide quickly moving river under a full moon, surrounded by cliffs and a scattering of trees, with no shoreline to speak of.

There are a few boats of strangers silently paddling some distance in front and behind you.

The only noise you can hear is that of the current and the helpless souls struggling desperately to swim.  None of them have a life vest. Some cry out or whimper in fear, even the very large. Some are children and others are old and sick. They are all around you and the other boats.  One or two of the stronger swimmers are trying to hold up the weaker ones.

Precious few people in the boats try to help in any way.  Most act like they can’t even see them. Some distance in front you can see a person clinging to the back of a canoe while the owner paddles on unaware. The person in the boat directly in front of you isn’t paddling at all. Her ores are just resting in the bow, moving with the current as she holds her hands over her ears to muffle the sounds of desperation from the river.

But you, you have a choice to make. You can’t un-see what is clearly before you. Will you help? Who will you help? You obviously can’t fit them all in your little boat. You consider the minimum you can do first.  What will stop someone’s suffering just enough to stop your own? Then you consider the most you can do. Choose someone too big or too desperate and you will very likely sink your own boat and in the process lose your ability to help anyone else. Maybe there is some one just right for you to help. Then it’s time to choose.

Some of you will first want to know why they ended up in the river in the first place and what did the others do to “earn” their canoes. But that question’s only purpose is to delay or prevent your action. It momentarily quiets the voices but changes nothing. You have a canoe while other poor souls struggle. The question before you is simply, what, if anything, will you do. Inaction while deliberating is still a choice, and more to the point, still inaction.

How much easier it would be to walk away if you were watching from a far like the cliff’s edge above it all. “So sad to see but I’m way up here; there can’t be anything for me to do.”

If we are fortunate enough to not be in the water ourselves what do we choose to believe about those who are and our abilities to do anything about it? The wellspring of action is belief, and belief is a choice.

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