Tag Archives: Giving

5781

Tonight is Erev Rosh Hashanah, the eve of the Jewish new year. We are celebrating 5781 journeys around the sun. These are 5781 journeys of love and loss, peace and war, fear and joy, hopelessness and solace.

Perhaps it’s because we’ve had such a strange six months that I’m not feeling the familiar ache to be with my family that I usually experience around the High Holy Days. I felt that ache acutely for weeks and weeks and perhaps I’m just accustomed to it now. I think the unprecedented life we’ve all been living is what has actually left me quite calm about my plans to welcome the new year quietly and with reflection rather than attending socially distant religious services in a normally communal environment.

Given everything, it seems fitting to begin a new year taking explicit action at making the world a better place – the world needs it. This is why I decided to go to the blood bank right after school. The queue both inside and at the door indicated that I was not the only one feeling the need to act and it was heartening to be in the company of so many strangers.

As I walked slowly home from the bus stop, I felt the strength of my heartbeat and I felt it working hard. The world needs us to work hard – it will not heal on its own.

As this year flows into the next my wish is, as always, for peace. Peace among friends, among strangers, with the earth, water, and air. And my commitment is to take actions to achieve it. I welcome all to join me.

Shana tovah u’metukah.

Auckland, New Zealand – December 2018

What is it with people?

I moved apartments at the end of July and I now live an easy bike ride away from school. I often ride in the company of a friend who lives in the neighbourhood. As we rode in this morning, my friend asked, “What is it with people? Do they actually not care or do they really not look?”

It’s a good question, one that I ask of myself and of others with some regularity. Let’s explore further.

“What is it with people? Do they actually not care?”

Care is a verb. As I have written similarly about love and about giving, it is very important to understand this. Caring means acting in a way that is responsive to those around us. I actually disagree with the standard dictionary definition here, which suggests that caring is a feeling or an action.

A feeling is not enough. To care is a verb and verbs are actions.

We cannot claim to care if we then proceed to do nothing, though unfortunately I think this is often the case. I suspect that for many people, feeling is enough. A moment of pause in their own lives while they look in the general direction of someone else and then right back to normal. After all, how often do we hear, “I do care but I just can’t do anything about it”?

I think this is wrong.

Again, caring is an action. True caring requires something from us, some sort of participation that goes beyond personal acknowledgement of a situation. We don’t need to donate a kidney to the next person who walks by in pain, but if we claim to care about people, it’s not too much trouble to look them in the eye and genuinely ask, “How are you?”.

Interestingly, however, there is a lot of literature about “self-care” out there and we’re pretty clear what we mean in regards to ourselves. We do what makes us feel good because we want to do it. It only makes sense to apply the same to others, but we don’t stop to think about what others might need. We are too wrapped up in our own minds for that.

Do some people actually not care? Yes, I think that is the case. Care is one of those words we have thrown around and we have neglected what it actually means. We talk about it but we don’t act on it. This is a problem.

“What is it with people? Do they really not look?”

I know a lot of people who use “being busy” as an excuse for their myopia. The problem is that this excuse becomes our way out of interacting with anyone or anything not directly related to our personal wants and needs. We avoid looking because looking would mean that we have to do something. And if we turn away, who are we? We aren’t willing to go here.

Not looking is an active choice to disengage. This choice is indicative of indifference to those around us, and both history and life experience teach that indifference is at least as harmful as outright harm. Sometimes, people really don’t look. Sometimes, people really cannot be bothered. This is a problem.

Likewise, it is common to assume other people will look, perhaps people who better understand a situation or who have been around longer. The argument might go, “Perhaps I’m not the right person to get involved.” Well, why not? Who is? It is also easy to deny responsibility with excuses like, “It’s just not my place to intervene.” Well, what is your place? How would you like to be treated in this situation if roles were reversed? You are now culpable.

We could go down a rabbit hole of hypotheticals here and if we do that, the principle must remain. For instance, if you see a child drowning, do you jump in? Psychology would say that you’re more likely to act if you’re alone than in a crowd of people, but I think this one is pretty easy. Yes, you see the child and you jump in. Are other situations so different?

How do we fix this?

I admit that this post is largely negative and I’m sorry about that. My friend’s question on our ride to work really got to me because I really do try to make the world a better place. I really try to do the right thing and to be involved even when I’d rather not be. This is true in a variety of situations, from answering the phone call or message that will likely lead to a very late night to approaching an administrator when I have concerns about a colleague.

Doing the right thing matters.

How do we make the world a better place when people refuse to acknowledge that there’s anything amiss at all?

Here is what I can suggest:

  1. Decide what matters to you and live according to those principles. Become the person you uphold in your mind as a good person.
  2. Understand that everything you do is a choice and make choices based on your principles.
  3. Hold yourself and others accountable to what has been said and done. Ensure that what is done aligns with what is said.
  4. Treat people well. Think long and hard about what that means and act accordingly.
  5. Do the hard work to do the right thing because these are the things that matter.

For a long time, I’ve collected quotes that I’ve come across in any number of places. I don’t remember where I first read the motto of Jainism, but I think it fits well here. Allow me to close with that.

Parasparopagraho Jivanam – The function of souls is to help one another

Building Peace: A Time for Giving

I live in a country obsessed with stuff. We have a lot of malls and shopping centers, a lot of sales, many opportunities to spend money. There’s a lot of getting new things, getting rid of old things, and keeping up with trends. I work with very privileged teenagers and for many of them, getting each new iPhone is the norm.

The focus on materialism has struck me sharply this week based on what I’ve seen and heard around school and I started to wonder: Why isn’t this a time for giving?

After talking with an administrator, I was asked to write a few lines for the parent newsletter and submitted the following:

With the prevalence of advertisements and sparkling lights it can be difficult for young people to remember that this time of year is a time for giving. We are lucky to live in Singapore where there are ample opportunities to give back to the community, volunteer time, and donate money to local causes. In Advisory, students are bringing in food donations for Food from the Heart, a resource bank for a variety of non-perishable items. Please consider emphasizing the importance of giving as you talk with your children around this time of year. There is much that clamors for our attention, but giving lies at the heart of what makes us human. As the IB mission states, we aim to develop “caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world”. Thank you for helping us raise these young people.

So for this post, let’s talk about giving.

‘Tis the Season

Many of us are attracted to shiny new things, as the advertising industry well knows. But once we’ve received the shiny new thing, does it make us as happy as we hoped that it would? Does it solve the problem we hoped it would solve? Sure, sometimes we love it and we’re glad to have it. But other times, we find ourselves using or missing the same comfortable old thing instead. Advertisers don’t talk about that part.

This is the time of year where we’re supposed to want the new thing. We deserve it, we’re told. We’ve worked hard. We can treat ourselves. 

And we have worked hard and we can treat ourselves. Sure.

But we can also give.

Giving is a verb. It is an action. It is something you do with purpose in whatever way you’d like. Giving means doing for another without expecting a response. It means thinking about someone else and removing yourself from the equation. Give because you want to and then step aside.

Giving doesn’t actually have a season, but this opportunity is as good as any. We can decide that this is a season of giving and we can promote giving as a peaceful act.

How to Give

Giving is easy because you can give anything.

We can give small moments to people in our lives just to see them smile when they realize we’ve thought of them. We can send a few “thank you” emails. We can offer a compliment about a new shirt or tie. We can smile a bit more, laugh a bit more, appreciate each other just a little bit more. We can ask after one another and listen, really listen, to what people say.

Giving, after all, is a verb.

And if we have it, we can give time. We can set aside our phones and other distractions and give people quality conversation, a friendly phone call. We can volunteer almost anywhere. For those of you in Singapore, we have ample opportunities to do just about anything.

If we’re lucky enough, we can give money. There is no shortage of good causes (and advertisements for causes that might not be so good). I know that this can be overwhelming, so if you’re looking to make the greatest possible impact, here is my favorite place to start.

A Peaceful Act

I haven’t written much about peace and peacebuilding since I published my book back in June, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve been trying to live it with my students in our discussions about prosocial behavior in psychology class. I’ve been talking with friends from outside work to gain new and different perspectives. I’ve been meditating daily to grow in my ability to be open to sensations, experiences, and people.

So this is my request for a peaceful act: Please, amidst the holiday parties and glittery ads, think about giving. 

As I’ve written before, I see peace as the keystone in the arch of what comprises a better world. Giving, in any way you choose, will help make that world a reality.