The sacrifice of one’s own slight contentment for the sake of the comforting of another human being is something I will admit to not being used to. We are often exhorted through the moral codes and values of our cultures and societies to put others first, but for most it is an incredibly hard thing for us to actually enact. The empathetic part of our nature (which I happen to believe all human beings to be innately gifted with, with varying degrees) wants to reach out to those lower than ourselves, to put our change into someone’s outstretched hands, to buy some extra food to drop off at the food shelter, to help the mother to manoeuvre her pram up the flight of stairs.
But. There is a part in us, bigger in some than others, which just wants to be egotistical, which enjoys having money, power, time, a sense of purpose and order, a part which says BUT. I would give my change to the homeless woman but I might need it for a coffee later (and she’ll probably spend it on drugs anyhow). I could buy some extra food but the food I’m buying is for me, someone else will sort out the food bank (and they’re probably just scroungers anyway) I should help that mother but I’m wanting to get on with my own journey, maybe I’m late, maybe I just can’t be bothered. Would, could, should. Deep within us we know that connection to our empathy and humanity which is enriched by our good acts, by our setting aside of ourselves,but life seems to get in the way of the idealistic vision of the living saint who cares for all and pours themselves out for others. But it isn’t all disasterous, we are not bound by the need or compulsion to act as we do, to pretend we haven’t seen the man laid on the cardboard outside the door, to pass by the woman collecting for cancer charities. We can change our world in minute ways, things which to us seem insignificant and tiny, but make a huge impact.
Tonight I have had one of the most enjoyable days since I came to uni, I had an excellent lecture, I did some productive reading, I met with some friends for coffee, I caught the tube to Embankment and wandered across the bridge with the buskers tunes ringing in my ears as I looked at the city illuminated in the dark. I returned to the flat and made a cup of tea, contemplated what music to put on and got into my PJs. But then one of my closest friends I’ve made at uni got back looking utterly browbeaten. And the tea was put down and the arms were opened. Because at that moment there was no thought of oh I could be snuggled in bed getting an early night but the concern and the listening and the comfort that they needed overrode it entirely. And somehow it brought to life the idea of humility, the service of others in their times of need in a way it rarely had before. We can discover a new, more enriched way of living, a new humanity, though giving ourselves over to that innate impulse of empathy and generosity, through simple, small acts. We are not condemned to live a life of could, would, should, we can, and must shape our world how we would want to see it, the egotism of our society, the encouragement to be high achievers and fulfilment through personal goals is somehow a hollow promise. We must of course take care of ourselves, must not stretch ourselves too thin. But it is mutually enriching to stop, take the time to help, to give, to talk, because in those spaces we expand, and feel better not only about ourselves and those we help, but about our entire world.