May 18, 2011
Will you allow your compassion to slow down in the face of the world’s challenges?
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain
– Emily Dickinson
When we read success stories of people who seem bigger than life, with all their accomplishments and honors, it may seem that our small efforts pale in comparison. Yet in the end, there really is no difference between the person who offers frequent, seemingly small acts of compassion and the person who focuses on a large and visible goal.
Let me tell what I mean by this and how my topic for today was inspired by a woman who spoke last Wednesday at the Publisher’s Association of Los Angeles. Cynthia Kersey, author of Unstoppable: 45 Powerful Stories of Perseverance and Triumph from People Just Like You, told of how she had been a top salesperson for Sprint when her twenty-year marriage ended. That is when a friend told her that the way past her pain was to do something for someone else until the pleasure of what she was doing was greater than her pain.
She had been involved with Habitat for Humanity and thought that building homes in Nepal would bring her enough joy to make a difference. However, when she had built ten houses, she was still in pain. When they finished twenty-five, she still wasn’t happy enough. But when she had built one-hundred, she realized the pain had gone.
Even more, she discovered that her life had turned around. When she saw the benefit of what she was doing for people who have almost nothing, she quit her well-paying job, wrote a best-selling book, and devoted herself to partnering with others to help educate the women and children of the world.
When she talked about underserved women in Africa, I was particularly interested because several years ago I saw the conditions in which people live who have almost nothing. In a village of the Samburu, who are related to the Masai, I learned that they had been nomads until the government made a law that every child had to go to school. Now they had a school but no supplies.
They made some money by doing jump dances for tourists and selling inexpensive trinkets spread out on the ground; it’s a poor way to make enough to afford paper, books and pencils. Yet education is exactly what the village needed to pull themselves out of poverty.
When we were in Kenya, we saw several billboards that said, “Educate a woman and you educate a nation.” Even Jim, our safari guide, emphasized that the women in Kenya (and I assume in other parts of Africa) do most of the work. He said that men are “lazy.” That is not true of all men, of course, but based on what I saw and heard, I am convinced that women in Africa hold up more than half the sky. And they’re doing it without the support we in the west take for granted, like clean water and an education for our children.
It will not be easy or quick, but people like her can inspire us to do what may seem impossible.
Of course, we don’t need to build houses in Nepal or go into the deepest and darkest parts of the world to make a difference. We can simply follow Emily Dickinson’s advice in the poem that starts this post (and which came from Unstoppable) that doing ordinary, caring things makes one’s life worthwhile.
After all, as Cynthia writes, “The greatest natural resource in the world is not in the earth’s waters or minerals, nor in the forest or grasslands. It is the spirit that resides in every unstoppable person. And the spirit of the individual benefits us all.”
When I ask in the title of this post whether your compassion is unstoppable, I am asking whether you allow your passion to wane in the face of increasingly busy lives and the world’s seemingly endless violence and discontent. Our problems seem overwhelming and there is no simple answer to problems in the Middle East.
But no matter where you are, there are people who want to experience peace in their hearts. They may not know how to do that, but if you extend yourself to them, if you help them meet some need they aren’t able to meet for themselves, you may help them find the peace they want and that can will make a great difference in their lives.
Seven billion people. Seven billion hearts. In the face of so many needs, you won’t affect more than a fraction of them, but if we all chose to connect more lovingly with others, we would, collectively, make a great difference in the world. We don’t have to start a foundation and go thousands of miles to make a difference. We only have to remember that we are connected by the spirit that lives in all of us.
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