The horrors depicting the wrath of Hurricane Harvey have had us glued to our televisions this past week. Now we’re seeing segments depicting ordinary people rescuing, helping, and reaching out.
We seem amazed at these stories of people caring for strangers. Impressed. But why? Have we become so isolated in our self-sufficient society that serving strangers in need is now outside the norm?
I read one account from someone in the flood-ravaged area. “Today was an exhausting day, trying to help the community, but also inspiring, as those that could, helped those in need. Mothers were driving up and down the streets, delivering sandwiches, water, etc., men were hauling furniture to the sidewalk, football players were carrying broken furniture, and junior high students were carrying clothes to their homes (that were okay) to wash for people, and some were just hugging each other and crying!”
We’re hard-wired to help. It’s what makes us human. And yet, other than our immediate social circle, we do it so rarely it’s become an anomaly, a one-off from normal day to day living.
The question then is, does helping matter, beyond just the recipient? I think it does. Helping, serving with no thought to personal gain instills a purpose bigger than ourselves. Junior high students taking a stranger’s clothes home to launder them? This is purpose, action with a meaningful outcome. Purpose means our life has value.
Toddlers desire purpose naturally, begging to help, to be part of the family’s tasks. But we, as a society, focus on teaching so the child can be left to do things on his own. Independence is our god. As a result, when everyday opportunities to serve arise, we see them as interfering with our plans, draining our resources, or as people taking advantage because, really, if they tried harder they’d be able to manage on their own, wouldn’t they?
One outcome of a catastrophic natural disaster such as Hurricane Harvey is to remind us that we are made to serve one another. Pressed to reach out beyond ourselves provides opportunity to experience the fulfillment that comes from altruistic purpose. Perhaps if we reincorporated such practices in our ordinary lives, we wouldn’t need disasters to bring our purpose to light.
Sometimes I wonder: If a person does a kindness but no one captures it to post on Facebook, does it really count?
Photo Source: New Yorker 08.26.2017