“Be a lamp, or a lifeboat or a ladder.” Just three common words beginning with the letter “L”, each loaded with meaning and purpose. Just think how different the world might be if everyone the world over was truly able and willing to be a lamp or a lifeboat or a ladder to someone else, or some worthy project, to be of use as a part of their basic purpose in life—every day?
What would such a world look like? A romantic and dreamers notion, you say? Perhaps. But, it causes me pause and nudges this observation; we teach our children to consider giving back and to be of use within our schools, organizations and faith communities. We pass out Merit Badges, and assign academic credit for fulfilling unpaid internships. And though we rightly think that teaching ways of giving back is important, oftentimes, there’s an incentive attached, a reward, for doing what is good. We get credit, somehow in some way.
Sure, it sometimes rubs off (maybe) and becomes a part of the fabric of who that person is becoming. But not always. In my thirty-plus years of working directly with organizations and institutions that have placed students, interns, and even court-ordered people who are on probation doing community service, I’ve seen it all in terms of levels of sincerity and commitment by those who come and go over the years. For sure, the receiving agencies benefit, but frequently the heart and spirit of being of use to others gets lost in checking off the hours and completing the requirement.
I submit that we teach, tell, and strongly encourage our children to study hard, to set high goals for themselves and to strive for stable careers that are financially rewarding… and oh…if you can, help someone out along the way, all the better. Really? (And as a parent of grown children, I’m guilty here too.) But have we ever honestly said first and foremost, “be a lamp or a lifeboat or ladder” to our children, before pursuing anything else? I’m guessing not.
It may be argued that exhibiting compassion and caring for the well-being of those around us cannot be taught, that it must come from a deeper place within. Perhaps. But I just can’t help but think how different our world, our country and our communities might be if our giving came not from our excess and bounty, but from the core of our being before anyone asked. That’s what I call to truly be of use.