October 2, 2006

To help other people at all times

On my honor, I will do my best
to do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
to help other people at all times,
to keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

So we're back, and we're talking about the fourth line of the Scout Oath: "to help other people at all times."

This is one of the more difficult tenets of the Oath to uphold. Oh, I want to help other people all the time but often get myself into trouble being too helpful, sticking my nose in where it doesn't belong. Despite getting burned now and then, it's a wheezer being able to do something nice for someone, even if they'll never know. It boils down to "do a good dead daily" and all that crap.

"But it isn't crap!" I hear you protesting, "And it's offensive to imply that acting on a generosity of spirit is equivalent to being a goodie-twoshoes or wasting one's time."

Well, but it is crap. Just how helpful are we really? Compared to the communities of old, in which neighbor helped neighbor - depended on neighbor, really - our modern communities are closed in boxes of isolation (admittedly, a rather New York view of things, but one which I hold is still true everywhere to varying degrees.)

It is difficult to be helpful at all times. Besides getting hostile reactions, one risks outright assault or litigation. Conventional wisdom in self-defence circles will have you shout "Fire!" instead of "Help!" if you're being assaulted - because no one responds to "help!" anymore. They don't want to get involved. They're afraid of being duped.

And, too, the people you want to hep make it difficult, too. People are damned independent these days, used to paying for everything and accepting no free help; they are suspicious of free help. Communities don't raise barns these days, contractors do. Strangers will also rebuff offers of help even if they clearly need it. Unless you're in a uniform, you can't be trusted. (Another tip from self-defence courses: always check a uniformed person's ID; you can guess why. Professional helpers are a group I often wonder about and would like to join, but have no idea how. EMTs, firefighters, police, and the like are often held up as heros even when the facts reveal there is more meanness and corruption in their ranks than genuine boy scouts.) Many homeless are in this category, being people who need help but don't want it. Then there are the types who overwhelm one with cries for help. One or two beggars a week I can give some coins to; a dozen a day and nobody gets my spare change.

So what to do? I believe my countrymen are basically good people and would like to help if just shown the way and are given motivation. This is what organized help groups are for. Everything from AA to ASPCA to Red Cross and Kitty Kind. Given an organization, it becomes easier to work for them if you can spare the time, give money to them, and even accept help from them.

What can I do? What can we, as runners, do? Running is necessarily a pretty selfish activity. It takes all one's energy and leaves little time left for volunteering anywhere. But some runs are organized just to raise money for a cause, such as the CF Ghosts and Goblins run I did last year about this time. (I've noticed something: the big runs don't benefit anybody. In fact, they need sponsors in order to get mounted.) But the little runs are organized by people with a cause and the participants pay a respectable chunk of change for a minimally organized and supported race - in order that the extra funds can go to the charity or foundation. This is good. This is perhaps why I like those 4 mile fun runs so much - the positive energy is better. It isn't about competition, it's about having a nice jog and raising a little bit of money in the process. If we're lucky, we get to listen to a good band and munch on donated sample-size energy bars, too.

My good deeds daily aren't worth reporting. Even my bigger, more shining moments are best kept on the DL. It is more noble, maybe, to vanish into obscurity than prompt the spotlight for attention after committing an act of unspeakable kindness. It isn't hard, of course, to do good deeds: shovel my elderly neighbor's sidewalk, reign in wayward trashcans, etc. Even keeping my own front stoop clean is helping my neighbors: it makes them proud of their neighborhood and strengthens all our bonds.

But this isn't "helping other people at all times." To do that, I would have to NOT turn away from any opportunity to help. And that, as I've illustrated, is tremendously difficult; it is more than a mere New Yorker can manage.

I think I have written before on the "everybody is sick" topic, and a similar foundational belief I hold is that everybody needs help. Everybody needs help. To some degree, I'll say it again, Everybody. Needs. Help. Given the sheer mass of help-needs out there, it becomes overwhelming. I, we, cannot help everyone, so we help no-one. Does that make sense? The point is, I think, that to truly be human, we have to reach out and help someone, even if that means just joining up on charity 4-milers or throwing our spare change into the cans on convenience store counter tops. Why be stingy?

And that's what the Oath is about. Don't be a stingy bastard, and on a regular bases, get off your butt, get motivated, and go out and actively help someone who needs it. How does it apply to me, as a single man slogging his way through a run in the park at 5 a.m.? I think it has to do with this: I can't help others if I haven't helped myself first. I can't encourage that guy to be fit if I haven't achieved it myself. I can't prod a flagging buddy through a race until I've been there myself. I can't volunteer my time or money 'til my basic needs - shelter, food, health - are taken care of first, because without those things, I'm no help at all.

To close, I just want to note that I am one of the core volunteers for the Expo this year and, if next Sunday's run does not go well, will also be out volunteering on race day. This is all I can give back to the running community. And by the way, if you're one of the many people who got the misprinted handbook, replacements are available.

1 comment:

Lora said...

I agree, we have to help ourselves first, then we can do unto others. Sometimes just a smile is a help to the stranger you see. That always lightens up my day.

And Yay for volunteering!!