Rob Kenney has a YouTube channel Dad, How Do I? where he teaches his nearly 3 million viewers how to do stuff. He got the idea for his channel wondering about the kids growing up without dads and wanting to help fill that space for them, teaching them how to tie their tie, do their taxes, check their oil, plant a tree, and so on. He tells them he’s proud of them.
What a sweet idea. And resource! But, more importantly, how wonderful it is to see someone consciously being a positive role model, using his know-how to help others, and trying to fill a void.
The truth is we all have the potential to be role models. Whether it’s how we behave under pressure, handle a crowded line, or talk with someone who disagrees, our actions matter. People will see us and think about whether they want to follow our example. We have a responsibility to be a good one.
In a week of mass shootings and other discouraging news, we need a dose of Mr. Rogers, a man who believed passionately in the value of children, just as they are, and dedicated his life to teaching them to manage and express their feelings. What a hero he was.
In this clip from 1969, he makes his case. His lessons are as important today as they were then. Take a listen.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is well known. In short, a man lies helpless and injured in the road. Religious leaders rush past offering no assistance, while a Samaritan stops and offers the wounded man succor and solace.
What makes one person stop to help while others rush by? Is it the belief that helping is the right way to show up in the world? A religious mandate even? Or is there more to it?
In a famous study at Princeton, researchers evaluated a group of seminarians, specifically discussing the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and then sending them to a task, indeed to lecture on the very parable, where they would necessarily walk right past someone needing help. Even with the parable fresh on their minds, the future pastors for the most part walked right by. Presumably these were nice people who intended to spend a lifetime in service. And yet, they walked right by. They acted in a way incongruent with their professed beliefs.
A surprising result to say the least. But the conclusion from the experiment was that the biggest influencer in whether they stopped to help was not their religious beliefs or their innate kindness, but their perception of time. The more of a hurry they were in, the less likely they were to help.
So how does this inform our choices?
A general kind intent to help is not enough. We are all the Princeton Divinity Students rushing to our next important task and potentially neglecting the plight of others right in our path. We must slow down the clock and really see the people around us. And we need to be ok with the idea that our plans and schedules might be disrupted. Surely stopping to help someone in need will change your day, will inconvenience you, and cause you to spend time and perhaps money in an unplanned way.
But the help you might be able to offer someone in need could be invaluable.
One good thing to come out of despair is the ability, once you are past it, to help someone in the middle of it realize that things will get better, that this, too, will pass. It’s as if we are all climbing our way out of a pit and reaching up to grab the hand of someone who has already made it out. Being able to reach your hand down to someone still in the pit is a blessing from something awful you may have gone through.
Along these lines, was the It Gets Better movement started several years ago, with prominent people from the LGBTQ community sharing their stories to help others who were struggling and feeling desperate.
Perhaps your last few years have been filled with grief. Certainly for many the pandemic has been a season of loss—of community, of norms, of freedoms, and, for many, of loved ones.
As you go forward, remember that we are each other’s support. We are each other’s comfort and hope. Reach out to each other.
For a very powerful rendition of R.E.M.’s, Everybody Hurts, listen to this rendition by priest, Father Ray Kelly. I stumbled onto this video several years ago, and it recently popped up again. I need to store it in a safe place to rewatch as needed. For me at least, it touches the soul and gives me solace.
When I was young, I had the book Happiness is a Warm Puppy by Charles Schulz. I was remembering it lately with all the charming little moments it caught:
Each page captures a delightful, sweet, innocent, but meaningful, moment in the life of a child. Each attempting to capture that ineffable notion of happiness. I thought it would be fun to start collecting my own when I feel that surge of happiness, that feeling that all is right in the world, and I’m incredibly lucky and content.
Here are a couple of mine:
The finches discovering their feeder.
The cat keeping you company while you work.
Being unable to move because the cat picked your lap.
And the list goes on. We each have moments that fill us with happiness and wonder. They slip away quickly because they’re ephemeral. But if we capture them somehow, in a gratitude journal, with a photo album, a list, we can turn to them later and smile. These are our ‘moments’
Schulz recognized that for each of of us, those moments will be unique and personal.
What are some of yours? If you feel comfortable doing so, I would love it if you shared them.
The new year brings with it an expectation to reflect and set intentions for how to perhaps improve from the last. Often these reflections result in an examination of all the ways we’ve fallen short and a profession to do better, eat better, exercise better…be better. Often the premise unspoken is that we’re not enough, we must improve, be different.
I wonder if there is a better way to start a new year. Perhaps in astonishment that we have made it through a year filled with so many challenges and yet we persisted. Perhaps filled with gratitude that our opportunities to contribute and bring joy to others continues. Perhaps thinking about all the small wonders that make up our life and rejoicing.
Each new year is an opportunity to wake up with the enthusiasm of Scrooge after his ghostly visits and realize that here we are, in the thick of it, able to love and be loved, able to contribute, and make a difference, filled with delight:
“Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious. Glorious!”
When he finds out from a boy outside his window that it is still Christmas Day, Scrooge says, “I haven’t missed it. Yes, the spirits did it all in one night—they can do anything they want to do.”
Then his thoughts turn, with glee, to anonymous giving, saying to himself, “I’ll send [a turkey] to Bob Cratchit’s! rubbing his hands, and splitting with a laugh. “He shan’t know who sends it. It’s twice the size of Tiny Tim….”
“The chuckle with which he said this, and the chuckle with which he paid for the Turkey, and the chuckle with which he paid for the cab, and the chuckle with which he recompensed the boy, were only to be exceeded by the chuckle with which he sat down breathless in his chair again, and chuckled till he cried.”
Chuckled until he cried. How thin the edge between joy and grief. What a gift it is to be here. How precious in its finiteness. But here we are, dancing, able to bring joy to others. Here now, but not forever.
It doesn’t really matter what your New Year’s resolution is, it’s all about the how, not the what. Adverbs are important when it comes down to it.
If your resolution is to lose a few pounds, does it make a difference whether you lose it sensibly or too fast or maybe, even, because you’re ill?
If your resolution is to make more money, does it make a difference if it is done at someone else’s expense or illegally?
No matter what we pick as the what of the resolution, the focus really must be on the how as well. Consider the adverb. The how of things makes a difference.
Generously or greedily. Selfishly or selflessly. Safely or recklessly. Kindly or maliciously. Honestly or dishonestly.
For every action that you can resolve to do, there is a spectrum of hows to reach that goal. Maybe, even, there is a line that can be crossed on that spectrum where the what isn’t important anymore because it involves a how that will make us someone who we don’t want to be.
So, when you’re going about planning your new year, consider what adverbs you want to be a part of it.
The days before Christmas can be frantic. We sometimes find our tempers short, our tongues loose, and our wits frayed. We think of Christmas as something in the future, speeding toward us, that we need to hurry around and prepare for so that we can enjoy His coming. But a birthday, like Christmas, is a celebration of something that has already happened. And, in the case of Christmas, it is a celebration of a whole new world order that is here. We are His now, not just at Christmas. We need to shine with His love now and everyday. Particularly when the world is harried. We need to reflect the joy and peace that comes with knowing that love conquers all.
We tend to judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions. What that looks like in practice is forgiving ourselves for a lot of things–selfishness, neglect, mistakes–that we don’t forgive anyone else for when the same harm is done to us.
But what if we flipped that and gave other people the benefit of the doubt and show them the same understanding we give ourselves? What if their statements that seem hurtful are merely ill thought out? What if what feels like neglect is really just busyness with something else? What if everyone is intending to do their best, but falls short over and over?
Just like we do.
Instead of anger, hurt, and frustration, our relationships would be peppered with compassion and understanding and the ability to grow and blossom.
If you look for thorns, you’ll see thorns. If you look for love, you’ll see it all around you. And if you look for opportunities to make a difference, to shower people with love, and to take a stand for all that is good and right in the world, those opportunities will be there.