It’s a strange moment, that moment that divides where you were and where you’re going. I’m sorry, what a ridiculous opening line, right? I’m not getting deep and philosophical here. I’m referencing my experience from two weeks ago, when I went to a Billy Joel concert in San Francisco. (And, to be quite honest, I’m having trouble getting my thoughts started here so please forgive me for this opening bit. It isn’t my best, by any means, and the massive amount of caffeine that my body is currently dealing with certainly isn’t helping. There, a sufficient amount of rambling usually get’s me back on track. But, you know, maybe not. We’ll see. Stick with me.) For several hours, I was surrounded by lights and music and joy and laughter; I didn’t have a care in the world. But then, the concert ended, I left AT&T Park and all of that excitement was gone and replaced with what happens when you come down from the high. You see, when the lights go down in the city, it’s not like that Journey song. When the lights go down in the city, you can finally see those on whom the light never shines.
You see the homeless. You see the hungry. You see the helpless.
Instead of calling it a night, I decided to drive around for a bit. I wanted to see for myself what this electric city, the one that’s had me entranced since I was a child, was like after midnight. I drove to the beach where it was quiet and cold. I drove through the park where a raccoon gang was clearly running the streets. And I drove by a lot of homes. But a lot of those homes didn’t have lights. Or doors. Or yards or locks or cabinets or rooms. Some were tents. Some were lean-tos, made of cardboard. Some were just the empty space surrounding their sleeping inhabitants.
It made me sick. I hurt for them but, more than that, I hurt for me. How dare I spend $100+ to see some old man play music when there are folks who don’t even have $10 to spend on food? Who am I to complain about my big house being a little too warm during the day when there are people who will actually freeze to death in their sleep? Thought after thought flooded my mind and I started feeling guilty. Really, really guilty.
For some, maybe even for most, guilt is the gut reaction to being faced with the harsh realities of the world. We read about starving children in underdeveloped nations and feel guilty about the half-eaten burger that was just thrown in the garbage. We hear about war-torn countries and feel guilty for complaining about a pothole in the neighborhood. It seems that when we hear about some one else’s need, we somehow manage to make it a reason to feel bad for ourselves. And we leave it there.
That’s exactly what I did that night in San Francisco! I managed to make it about me. I saw some one else’s need and felt bad for myself. And that was that, I felt bad then I went home. This is a perfect example of selfishness. If I am faced with something that troubles another and all I can do is think about how it affects me, that is selfishness and that makes me part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution, I want to be part of the movement that overturns our selfish society. And I think there is a cure to this ailment. What is our endgame? I believe it to be compassion. What do we already have? That’s easy—guilt. What is it that’s missing? Let’s talk about that.
As a selfish-person-seeking-reform, I’m confident in speaking with authority on this matter. Simply put, selfish people, the ones who feel guilty and nothing more for the needs of others, lack perspective. When I say “perspective,” I’m talking about the ability to stand back and see a situation for what it is while assessing how you fit, or don’t fit, into that situation. Now, we selfish-folk aren’t necessarily ignorant, so we know that we need to have some type of mental process to cope with the challenge of guilt. But, we can’t grasp perspective! So we depend on what’s within reach—comparison. Comparison is a completely flat approach to very three-dimensional issues and the selfish are content to rest in the guilt that is found there. For me, in my infinite selfishness, I’ve actually come to appreciate that very guilt as comfort. It’s almost as if my humanity is reaffirmed in my ability to feel bad about having more than some one else. As long as I know that hurt exists—and I hurt for those hurts—I have, somehow, now done my part as a citizen of the world. Of course, this isn’t true. All I’ve done is point and say, “Oh, you’re hungry but I’m not! I’m sorry!” And who does that help? No one. Comparison is useful as long as it is used as a building block towards perspective. How do I go from a person who rests on the laurel of comparison to one who strives for the wholeness of perspective?
You change the questions you ask. Instead of asking, “Who am I that I have this or that?” I ought to start asking, “How can I help those who don’t have this or that?” Thinking about what I don’t need does not, in any way, help those who do need. The homeless, hungry, and helpless don’t need me to feel bad. They need homes, food, and help—what can I do to meet those needs? THAT, right there, is perspective. If I take that line of thinking and apply it to the places I feel guilty, the result is perspective where once there was comparison. The result is compassion where once there was selfishness.
Guilt will always exist. How long we ruminate on it is our choice entirely. We can make it our home or we can put it beneath our feet and grind it into part of our foundation, mixing it with perspective and using it as a platform from which we act in compassion. Let us be stunted by our guilt no longer. When we flee selfishness, we pursue compassion. And compassion will change the world.
Right now, let’s ask ourselves, “What can I do to meet that need?” Not everyone is meant to meet every need. But everyone is meant to help some one. Below you will find links to organizations that are actively pursuing compassion. They’ve grown beyond guilt, found perspective, and are now free to meet needs. I encourage you to click around and see what it is that you can do for the homeless, the hungry, and the helpless.
Think about those on whom the light never shines. Find some way to shine your light on them.
Find your local homeless shelter and learn what you can do to help here: www.homelessshelterdirectory.org
Want to help in the world’s efforts to relieve the current refugee crisis? Try this: https://onetoday.google.com/page/refugeerelief?c=US&hl=en-US
Have a heart for children who don’t have access to education? Here you go: www.pencilsofpromise.org
Want to bring clean water to some one who has none? Boom: http://donate.worldvision.org/ways-to-give/by-category/clean-water
Our world is full of disaster. Want to help with that? So does the Red Cross: https://www.redcross.org/donate/donation?donationProdId=prod10002&flow=oc1&pgver=psearch&scode=RSG00000E017&gclid=CPDt5Y6d_ccCFViRfgodLpUK1w
Human trafficking might be occurring closer to your home than you realize. Learn more here: http://www.humantrafficking.org/countries/united_states_of_america/ngos
These are just a few! Add links in the comments if you have an organization that’s near and dear to your heart. Spread the word on compassion. It will change the world. And we can be the ones to do it.