This is a time of year when many people take stock of all that they are grateful for — or at least when we should do so. But this should also be a time when we take stock of all those people who contributed to those gifts — especially the intangible ones. Those gifts such as our self-esteem or confidence, our love of sports or music, and our spine. What person or group do you owe the greatest debt? Was there a special person or group that really helped you become the person you are today?
Was there someone who helped you believe in yourself and your ability? Was there someone who taught you to appreciate life in a new way? Was there just someone who was there so you could count on them no matter what?
Most of us have been fortunate to have not just one person but a whole team of teachers, coaches, and mentors who helped us grow and reach our potential. We should remember to thank those people again and again as we live the lives they helped us shape. Even more important we need to repay that debt — not to those individuals but to society. How is your debt? Have you paid it yet or are you still pretending it doesn’t exist?
We often hear the expression as it relates to criminals. It is sometimes used as a euphemism for incarceration. The truth is though that we all owe a debt to society. Not because we have done some harm to the community but instead because we have benefited from someone else doing good.
I am a Presbyterian and our expression of the Lord’s Prayer includes the phrase “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”. Obviously no matter how good we are and how exemplary our lives we can never repay our debt to God or his son so that part of the meaning is rather clear. I also think this means that we should do good for goodness sake rather than any potential benefit we may reap from the act.
I also think there is another level of meaning and this comes back to the central idea of our debt to society. I think when it comes down to acts of kindness there cannot be a one-to-one relationship. Obviously in many cases when a person is in need of help they may never be in a position to return that help in kind. But it isn’t really what we want or need when we offer help or kindness in any case.
Whenever I do something charitable, helpful, or kind, I tend to view the act as contributing to a vast fund of kindness. Many times in my life I have profited from this fund and very likely I will continue to profit from it.
One of the reasons I like this concept is that I do think of it as a sort of fund or bank. The value grows exponentially rather than incrementally just as money would do if similarly invested. We should all be grateful for this because the truth is that we usually don’t pay our debt to society.
Most of us will write the occasional check, buy a ticket for some raffle, and/or spend a few hours working here and there on some pet project. There are a few who will go much further than this and spend a large portion of their time, energy, and/or money for the greater good but they are far too few.
Often whenever we face pressure on our time or finances then it is our philanthropic activities that are the first to be sacrificed. I have been all too guilty of this myself. I wonder what would happen if we reversed this and instead put helping others first rather than last?
My challenge to you this week is simply to find a way to add to our goodness fund. Borrow from the concept of “Pay It Forward”. When someone offers you a helping hand then be sure to pass the favor along at the first opportunity. Don’t pick and choose. Don’t balance your checkbook first. Don’t take the easy path. Do what is right. You will know it when you see it.