We all remember a time when we were ‘hit’ with the importance of getting involved globally. For me, I was 12. We were on a family vacation in Mexico, near a traditional marketplace. My father and I wandered off, just a few paces away, confronted with a cult-de-sac of unwashed, handicapped, begging children. Having my eyes widened with just disbelief and overwhelming sadness, I simply remember the word UNACCEPTABLE flashing across my mind. I still feel it and see that word all the time. It’s simply “not ok” that millions are starving. Not only can we help, but we also have a lot to learn. I never realized how much I would receive when I first started giving!
From my experience in Mexico, I started volunteering at the age of 12. And when an adult, taking on larger volunteer projects, all across the world, all in different issues. Microfinance in India, working with paraplegics in Cambodia, with farmers in Guatemala and with earthquake survivors in El Salvador. It’s been much of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had in life. It’s provided perspective. It’s instilled an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
And it’s also instigated a daily, morning call to action for myself personally, that every day we can do something to help someone else. If you want to get involved now, you can check out UniversalGiving (http://www.universalgiving.org
). There are some great ways you can donate or volunteer all across the world!
Truly important is that we need to realize that along our pathway of giving, we are helped along as well. I sincerely believe that we who give financially have the most to receive. For example, this gift we receive might be in renewed appreciation for our health. Or perhaps the realization that we should relinquish some of the material possessions which are distancing us from what we truly value. For me, there are two particular areas that first came to mind: First, the importance of family, and second, the direct connection to life.
Regarding family, I remember learning about the solidity and honor that many developing countries and communities place on tradition, roots and family history. We may be amazed how families stick together, work together, and care for one another. We are and will be challenged as to our views on the elderly; most countries wouldn’t think of putting an elderly parent or grandparent in a lonely, sterilized ‘old folks home.’ Families take them in. They care for the elderly as they were cared for as children. Elders are respected for their wisdom, and for their experiences in life. They are consulted regularly, and included in family. Even their simple, quiet presence is cherished.
We have a lot to learn.
I was also so inspired by “the direct connection to life.” Often a developing community may be financially impoverished…. but rich in the value of daily experience. The slowing down of life. Spending significant, face-to-face time with family members. Taking time to celebrate people, occasions, or history. And one of my favorites, which we often overlook, being directly connected to nature and the earth. For example, many people in developing nations grow their food, and connect with the earth directly. We now go to grocery stores for our food. We are separated from the process of nature: understanding the investment of time and energy, seeing food grow, cherishing the accomplishment of hardwork to produce food from a simple seed. It may be in the name of efficiency, but not in the value of life experience, or healthy food, or lessons learned about nature. We are literally “jumping over” important life lessons. Through our giving, volunteering, or any type of service, we learn to fully connect again, fully appreciate, and relish the whole beauty of each interaction.
The interesting thing about our current type of life, often in the United States, is we then get consumed with efficiency. We place value on going quicker and getting things done as our highest god. It pulls us away from the meaningful and into what I would call “Luxury Troubles.” These Luxury Troubles are the barriers to our efficiency. Our Treo breaks. We were late to a meeting because of traffic. Or perhaps we are annoyed that the grocery line is taking so long…. Still, they are luxury troubles. That is what they are. They are minor inconveniences compared to what is happening in 70% of the rest of our world. And if we don’t take time to slow down and appreciate the processes throughout life, we can miss. We miss value, meaning, learning. We miss building great, meaningful relationships, with both families and friends, as well as nature and our world.
I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s just a gentle wake-up call to be mindful of our choices, and the value they bring to one’s life. Keeping periodic, regular giving and volunteering allow us to learn and appreciate so many of the aspects of life that we may rush through. So when you can… think about giving…. or volunteering. And try not to rush through your good work. Enjoy it. Learn from it. Relish it. Be in that moment, serving… and being served with these life lessons.