Action: If Not Now, When?

It’s fashionable to talk about new-year resolutions at this time. What do you plan to achieve this year? After having decided, the next question is, if you don’t act now, when? Mark Twain once said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Basically, each action comes from two motives: helping oneself and helping others. Since we don’t live in an isolated world, our actions inevitably affect others regardless of our intentions.

Here, I wish to talk about helping other people. The following common excuses are usually mentioned:
*I’ll help them when I have time.
*I’ll donate to charity when I become rich.
*My help does not make a difference due to the magnitude of the problem.
*Somebody will undo what I have done. So what is the point?
*The world is always full of people needing help. We can never solve this perennial problem.
*I am entitled to every penny I earn.
*Poor people are lazy and dependent. Why should I help them?

The above excuses are misguided besides unnecessary. At the personal level, kindness and charity originate from the heart, not from the brain. If your brain overrules the heart, that is perfectly fine. We face this kind of conflict everyday. The other point is that charity is voluntary. Nobody should feel guilty about not helping other people. So nobody needs to find an excuse for not giving, because that is hypocrisy. When you decide not to help, why should you bother about what other people think or say?

The conventional wisdom about time, fortunes, and entitlement are misguided, too. Time is not what one has, but what one makes. No wonder motivated people always find time to do whatever they want. A day lasting for 24 hours is not the limit. Your lifetime is the real limit that always seems long enough until you approach the end.

Many people have accumulated fortunes wisely but not spending them in the same manner. Is giving the most gratifying action? Many philanthropists will tell you so. Besides, it’s not the amount that matters. It’s the act of giving that counts. Note that fortunes do not come through hard work only. There always exists the element of luck beyond one’s control. Luck is associated with the opportunity and stability offered by society as a favorable environment to make fortunes. A superstar lives on the craze of the fans. A billionaire relies on the health of the market to grow his business. The rich often fail to recognize that they are the small minority who are especially blessed, not necessarily the smartest or the most hardworking. The lucky star happens to shine on them more often. They are entitled to how much they want to give or not give. However, they cannot claim that every penny earned comes from their sole effort simply because of the fact that luck plays a part in life.

At the society level, there always exists a large segment of population that is poor and under-privileged mostly through no faults of their own. Given a choice, nobody wants to be on the receiving end because it devalues one’s self-worth to ask for a handout. By donating to charity, our first goal is to relieve the sufferings of other people. Furthermore, we may not realize that giving aids (especially to the young) opens up opportunities and enhances stability in society that will benefit us someday. We probably all agree that it is impossible to eliminate poverty and injustice altogether to achieve utopia. Helping other people is always work in progress to make a better world one step and one person at a time.

In the final analysis, helping others is equivalent to helping ourselves because it creates a favorable environment of good will, stability and opportunity. The difference is usually the delay in seeing the results when helping others. Have you discovered this truth yet?

December 2012

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