Comment/A Lesson in Humanity

04/11/2011 22:19

Kindness: Embracing a Value Ingrained in All of Us

In childhood, we were taught to wait for others for food, share the little available with everyone, and let the younger ones have it. Caring for others is not unique to one particular group of people or country; it is a common value ingrained in all of us. Just continue being kind to others. If nothing else, it is good for your health.

By Amadou Basiru Jallow

"The best portion of a good man's life --- his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love."

  --- WilliamWordsworth

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         In life, there are many things that set one group of people apart from the rest. The language they speak, their religious affiliations, their country of origin, gender, age, and many other attributes that we use to categorize people. It is understandable that every human being is unique. But the genuine concern for the well-being of one another brings people from different walks of life together despite all the other things that set them apart.

I often hear people say that a person has changed. That’s right! People do change. We learn and grow from our experiences throughout life. But the values that were ingrained in us as children make up the larger fraction of the person that we have become. The roots of a tree hold it firmly in position. But when the wind blows, it swings the branches of the tree in the direction of the wind. Once the wind stops blowing, the branches return to their original position.

Several years ago, I had to catch three buses from home to school. It would take me almost two hours to get there. My classes were held in the evening. So, I did not get home until late at night. And I was living on a very tight budget. Thus, eating out was expensive for me and I tried hard to avoid it except on extreme cases when I felt I could not wait until I got home. One night after class, I was heading home around 10:30pm when I felt very hungry and decided that I could not wait any longer. I had a window of 15 minutes for my last connection bus to arrive. I decided to go to the fast food restaurant across the street to grab something to eat on the bus. A homeless man walked up to me as I arrived at the bus stop with my food. He begged me for some of my carry-out. I looked down at my food bag, then silently up at him and handed him the bag without comment. He said, 'thank you,' and just walked away.

Now, why didn’t I say no to him even though I was very hungry? Or why didn't I question his state of homelessness in the first place? There were endless questions that I could have asked this homeless man. If you are looking for an answer to any of these questions, I found one several days ago at a Sierra Leonean naming ceremony.

There were two little children, a two-year old boy and a seven-year old boy, at this ceremony.  The seven-year old had a toy that the two-year old wanted. He was crying for the toy. But the seven-year old refused to give it to him. His father then instructed him to give the toy to the two-year old and promised to buy him another one. He unhappily handed over the toy, saying to the two-year old, “you owe me 5 dollars.” Looking back at my encounter with the homeless man, I realized that my good Samaritan gesture emanated from the values that were ingrained in me from childhood. Growing up, I remember we were taught at home to wait for one another for food, share whatever we have with everyone, and if the item in question couldn't be had by all, to leave it for the youngest or the less fortunate among us. I have come to realize that such values are deeply rooted in me. And, I believe the same is true for many if not all of us.

In school, we were told to join the Helping Hand Society. The goal of this club was to bring together students interested in helping those less fortunate. The club held sensitization workshops, among other things. By helping the less fortunate, we were indirectly helping ourselves. In the religious realm, the Muslims call it giving charity (Zakat) and the Christians call it Sowing a Seed. And for the unreligious, they simply consider it an act of kindness.

Just to reiterate on my encounter with the homeless man, I would say that my benevolent getsure was really worth it, even thought it meant my having to lose inorder for someone else to gain.  Did I get rich? No. Did I continue thinking about the food I gave the homeless man? No. Did he return again? Yes. But wait a minute. I know what you’re thinking; he needed food again. Right? No, wrong. Anyway, my initial thoughts were in line with yours. I could not help it but wonder what he was up to as he approached me again. It is interesting how sometimes in life, our prejudices overcome our rationalities. When he arrived, he greeted me and reminded me that I had given him some food two days ago. He humbly said to me, “this new pair of gloves is all I have. Please accept it as a token of my appreciation.” Of course I did not want to accept it but I felt it would be disrespectful to turn down his offer. I thanked him and we both went our separate ways feeling good about what we had done for each other.

Wow! Certainly, I was caught off-guard. I was not expecting this reaction from the homeless man. The reaction was so overwhelming that I must admit, later that night when I had time to reflect on it, I shed tears.

Scientists have been studying the altruistic personality for many years. Although there are many theories about what makes a person altruistic, many researchers agree that altruistic people are generally healthier and live longer than their counterparts. Many research findings show that altruism boosts health and improves lives.* John D. Rockefeller, Sr. is one of the greatest examples of health and longevity benefits associated with altruism. He was  one of the wealthiest businessmen during his time. He struggled with many different health complications. As a result, he was given a prognosis of less than one year to live. But something interesting happened. He decided to take the attention from himself and began to use his wealth to help others. He was not only able to live to see his fifty-fourth birthday but lived to see his ninety-eight birthday!*

Being genuinely concerned about other people does not mean giving up your only pair of gloves or giving up your only meal but showing simple acts of kindness such as holding the door for someone walking behind you, giving a listening ear to someone’s concerns, or giving wise counsel to someone who looks up to you for guidance to climb over life's brickwall of challenges and uncertainties. I sincerely believe that we all have the capacity for compassion towards our fellow human beings. All we need to do is to embrace the value of kindness already ingrained in us. And then, to let it reign for humanity. Which is what the Basse Association, the sum total of the individual acts of kindness of its members, has been doing for the betterment of the township of Basse. So give kindess a chance and allow the compassion in you to multiply and change the lives of others.

Let’s always remember:  the recipient of the act of kindness benefits a lot, but it is the giver who reaps more.

*Karren, K.J., Hafen, B.Q., Smith N.L., & Frandsen, K.J. (2006). Mind/body/health: the effects of attitudes, emotions, and relationships (3rd ed., Pp. 453-457). San Franscisco, CA: Pearson Education, Inc. 

Amadou Basiru Jallow, a student at the Northern Arizona State University (USA), is a member of  My Basse's Editorial Board.

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