“If you feel like it’s a duty or hard work to help the poor, don’t do it.”
It was the first time I had ever heard someone say that many people who help the world’s poor do so because they find it fun, interesting and challenging. I smiled in spite of myself, and felt like I was looking up to see an old friend for the first time in years.
Whenever people ask why I wan to do this, I’m at a loss. Yes, I do feel some sort of moral obligation to humanity, but there are a lot of ways to fulfill that obligation. I think my neighbors who deliver meals and spend time with isolated friends in nursing homes are also doing good work that improves us all as a species. I view those who lead campaigns to pick up trash at local parks in much the same way. So I could easily help people in a different manner, and in the past I have, from teaching CCD to leading free tours at the State House to being a good granddaughter. And yet, I feel compelled to do this, to do more. Or, more accurately, to do different.
Hearing Professor Shaugnessy say that the people who do the best job helping the world’s poor at the people who love it, thrive on it, are good at it has, in a way, let me out of the closet as someone who is happily, selfishly trying to save the world. Or at least some small corner of it.
So here’s the thing: I’m good at this stuff, and it makes me happy. I like the long bumpy bus rides on pocked dirt roads, talking to strangers in tongues strange and varied, mapping assets and increasing capacity.
Helping people in this way causes me great joy and personal satisfaction. It allows me autonomy and a sense of accomplishment, even though I often feel helpless and useless. But helping people doesn’t have to be totally selfless as is often suggested, and it is perhaps better if it is this way. I do not feel a heavy burden to help. This is not mi tarea, es mi felicidad.
And in the end, happily helping the poor is better for everyone, as it is far more sustainable (for me and everyone around me) than listlessly trudging through a set of overwhelming global obligations.
So, to take a tip from Kevin Ryan, I do it joyfully and with an open heart, which I hope will prevent me from feeling guilty when I spend moments of my life snorkeling or playing cards or being with my family or doing things that won’t end human trafficking or institutional racism.