Wanting To Help: Is It A Basic Human Instinct?

I felt really self conscious after publishing last week’s post, worried I’d been too sappy. And then you all showed up, sharing resources, ideas, anguish, and personal stories. Thank you. Thank you for sharing so much and for making me feel so much less alone.

I’m still reading, viewing, and considering all that you sent me and will share as I learn more. For now, I just have two stories for you.

Right after publishing last week’s post, I started reading The Martian by Andy Weir. It’s good, and you should read it before the movie comes out in October.

It’s about a lot of things, but one plot line illustrates how much good people can achieve  when they’re motivated and dedicated to a shared goal. It also shows how people, institutions, and countries that typically don’t get along can set issues aside long enough to do good work together.

I thought of all of you and this blog when I read these paragraphs:

Human beings have “a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true.

If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.”

I hope that’s true, that it’s a basic human instinct to help each other, and that the caring individuals not only outnumber “the assholes,” but that the collected good work has more impact than the negative. Which, truthfully, is hard to believe right now, but I’m hoping. Plus, all the more reason to up my game, right?

So there’s that to ponder. Then, one day while out for a walk, I started daydreaming.

I let myself imagine that the business I’m slowly crafting would be a great success and that I’d have resources to pass along to others. Who would I give money to? How might I give back? Homelessness and hunger are two things that worry me the most in the world, so I thought of that. But then I thought of other artists and writers and helping them pay the bills while they do their work.

Then, my daydream shifted to a simple, good, and practical idea that I can start right now, that helps remedy homelessness, that supports artists and writers, and that involves all of you, too.

In Portland, there’s a newspaper called Street Roots. It’s a weekly paper that creates jobs and raises money to deal with poverty and homelessness.

I am ashamed to admit this, but many years ago, I tried to give a Street Roots vendor some money but told him I didn’t want the paper. I never took the time to read it, and I didn’t want to waste the paper. He insisted I take it, saying, “You can pay extra if you want, but you have to take an issue and read it.”

I feel like a jerk now, because it recently dawned on me –not only do the articles take on issues of poverty and homelessness, most of the writing, photographs, drawings, interviews, and comics are created by people who are or have been homeless.

Telling the vendor I never get around to reading it was incredibly rude! I mean, can you imagine someone giving you money for your book but not wanting your actual work? This was one of my most horrible moments. But now, I am slightly less blind and have a plan.

I am going to buy the paper somewhat regularly, pay extra, READ IT, and look for insights to share in an occasional blog post. I’ll be contributing to a well-respected publication and resource, and I’ll be reading and sharing work by other artists and writers. Win-win.

It’s a simple plan and a little one, but it’s a start, and it feels good.

– – – – — –  Okay, I was going to end here, but I talked with my mom just before finishing this post, and I have to tell you one more story about individuals working to ease the suffering in the world.  – – – – – –

My mom mentioned that her neighbor volunteers with the Red Cross. This woman flies all over the country, right into the heart of physical, emotional, and mental trauma, to do the work she’s been trained to do. She told my mom that it doesn’t matter that she doesn’t know anyone when she arrives; they’ve all been trained in their roles so well that they work in harmony right away, getting things done.

Here’s an example of one person who has retired to a financially comfortable life, but rather than kicking it on a fancy yacht (for all I know, she might do that too), she has devoted endless hours to rigorous Red Cross training and leaves her home for weeks at a time to tend to the damaged, wounded, and scared.

Maybe the next question in this conversation is what is it that motivates people to sacrifice time, money, and comfort to help others?

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5 Responses to Wanting To Help: Is It A Basic Human Instinct?

  1. Rose L. says:

    I know what motivates me is the wonderful feeling I have in knowing my little bit makes a difference.

  2. Alex Hurst says:

    Fantastic article. Your experience with the vendor is about as bad as my first experience with a transgender person. There I was, bisexual, and when someone told me “I’m a boy,” I giggled, because I thought they were joking. They looked like a girl after all. It still horrifies me now, knowing what I know, because that would have been my crucial moment to support them and make them feel more included. I’m much more vigilant now. Naivety is the natural state, but it doesn’t have to stay that way!

    Love your plan, and I hope you end up enjoying the paper for its very merit. 🙂

    • TRISTA says:

      Oh, ugh! I feel your pain, Alex. But, reading your story makes me think that our moments of mistake taught us to be better from that point on, so maybe it ends up doing more good than harm. Still, my cheeks burn at the memory of the dumb thing I said. Thanks for sharing your story, too. Also, you’re right about Street Roots being a good read for its own merits.

  3. Pingback: A Photo Shoot, Good Neighbors, and A Wishing Tree | All But The Kitchen Sink

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