On our recent overnight wilderness excursion, the wind and rain forced us under tarps, trees, and small caves. As I moved around to see how our club was holding up, I encountered groups chatting, laughing, and dancing in the rain. Underneath one tarp I found just one of our guys providing rain protection to a young boy who had wondered to our campsite from a nearby village. The boy had a reserved happiness about him. This climbing club member named Innocent befriended the boy (named Moses) and listened to his frustration with arriving to school late because he didn’t know what time it was: he had been kicked out of school. Nobody in his house had a watch,phone, or clock. Innocent was moved and gave the boy his watch. I was humbled to learn that Innocent himself was in the midst of struggling to survive. He is an orphan who dropped out of elementary school to support his older and younger sisters. Daily he wakes up early to dig a small sugarcane plot to pay his sister’s school fees, even though he would love to go back to school himself.
Why is it that the less fortunate give more proportionately to others in need than do those with excess? Psychologists have termed it “compassion deficit”. Many propose the driving force to be empathy—the ability to relate to the needy person’s situation. The hearts of the fortunate have no “deficit”, but lack the opportunity to experience what the needy experience.
It’s interesting: last week when the Juvenile Detention boys were cleaning the health center the guards who accompanied the boys were demanding for a “day allowance”. When the In-charge explained that this was part of a day’s work, they said, “there’s nothing like working for free”—implying that they needed additional payment: this said in front of over 20 boys who worked all morning without pay.
It’s better to give than to receive—indeed. There is something so healing about giving and not expecting anything in return. Altruism is scientifically proven to be therapeutic. Why don’t we do it more? A challenge to myself and those reading this blog…
Later on I asked club members to draw their life path in chalk on the rock, noting several of their most influential moments–good and bad. I have done the lifeline exercise for years, but this time Innocent did something I’ve never seen before . At a certain point, Innocent’s lifeline split into two—one for himself and one for his sisters. It was a beautiful picture of empathy.
What have you noticed about generosity and empathy?