The Man at the Back Door
One Friday night, when I was a child, a man appeared at our back door asking to see my father. I recognized him as a member of the crew that worked in my father’s small business. I heard the man say, “Can I borrow five or ten dollars until next week?” My father looked him in the eye, stepped outside, opened his wallet and handed him the money. My father was not a wealthy man. He could account for every dollar he earned. “The man at the back door” happened pretty often so one day I asked my father, “Do these men ever pay you back?” He answered, “Almost never.” So then I asked, “Why do you keep giving it to them?” He replied, “Oh, I know they’re not going to pay it back.”
Later in life, when my dad could no longer take care of himself, the families of these same men would step forward and offer their services in living with and caring for him and my mom. When I met them, I could see in their faces a family resemblance to the men at our back door. When my father passed, no one grieved harder than they did.
How crazy it sounds to many that within us we have an inborn need to take care of each other. When there is an earthquake or tsunami, it is then we see that millions share this quality.
The problem is – there is a catch to true generosity. It only comes within the framework of having the freedom to choose. Otherwise, it’s just an idea getting entangled in thought patterns. Things like – who is deserving and who is not, who has too much and who does not have enough? Thoughts that mask the recognition and true feelings of sharing.
When I think that so many people today see sharing as something that must be forced, it makes me very sad. Here, the giver does not strengthen contact with his/her inner self through the act and the receiver has little or no appreciation of it. How can one ever develop feelings of self-worth under such a system?”
Right out of college, I spent three years working with “juvenile delinquents” and their families. A common question I asked them was the equivalent of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Over half the time their answer was, “I want to get on disability and get a check from the government.” This pattern had been going on for several generations. The concept of developing a feeling of self-worth was foreign to them. At the time, I thought that giving people a monthly check was a kind of generosity. What I realized, from my direct involvement, was that in the guise of being a generous and caring person, what I really was doing was reinforcing and perpetuating the non-achievement mindset. No wonder these kids got into trouble.
When given the opportunity, they did what any human does, they began developing a sense of accomplishment and pride in themselves. These were the success stories, the kids that changed their world.
For many, the appearance of being generous and sharing seems to be enough. If it’s not real however, how can it help beyond being a temporary material fix. As a little kid, I believed people in general had more confidence in each other. I also believed that they had more confidence in themselves.