Tuesday, January 3, 2017

WEEKLY COMMENTARY: Can We Bring Some HOPE To Others In 2017?

Some of us may be profoundly discouraged about the world we think we know.  So many of our media news sources are relentlessly filled with stories of natural disaster, grinding poverty, war and death.  It is hard not to be drawn into this negativity.  Bad news is news!  Good news doesn't sell newspapers as well. Therefore, it may be hard for us to realize that in many ways the world is becoming a better place.

Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, reports that fewer children worldwide are starving or dying of disease now than at any time in recorded history, and that more children are in school.  Kristof continues ---- "In impoverished Haiti, health care shows basic improvements.  More than four out of five Haitian children get some childhood immunizations.  De-worming is now widespread.  In the old days, these kids would be dead."

In 1970, columnist Kristof tells us, almost 25% of Haitian children died before their fifth birthday.  At last count, however, the figure was just 7%.  Compare this with 15 years ago.  Now, one fewer child dies each hour.

"As families grow confident that their children will survive," says Kristof, "they also have fewer of them.  In 2005, the average woman in Haiti could be expected to have five children.  Now the figure is about three births per woman."

As we think about these positive trends and examples of progress in the world, several things may come to mind.  First, it took joint efforts by the U.N., many governments and numerous not-for-profit organizations, engaging large numbers of people, to make these positive "macro" changes happen.

Secondly, they did not happen overnight.  Indeed, some worthy attempts at concerted positive change were failures, and many succeeded only because of long-term efforts.  Indeed, sometimes it took years before substantial progress was seen.   
The issues were not just about funding.   Often, the changes required in people and their cultures met strong resistance.  This resistance had to be overcome, and that often took time and skill.  But, in the last analysis, it would seem that the "change lubricant" most often successful was people-to-people relationships ---- not distant bureaucracy.  It was people teaching each other, encouraging each other, and working side by side.   

Well, is there a lesson for you and me in this?  I don't know about you, but I cannot take off a year to go work on a health project in Haiti.  But, if I stay home, are there any other ways I can bring some HOPE to some forgotten people in 2017?

You know what I am going to say to you ---- that there are some ways.   But, that YOU must find them, in efforts specifically meaningful for yourself.  All I can do is offer some suggestions on how to make your "helping" time the most HOPE inspiring in others.

Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned in attempting to bring some HOPE to others, especially to strangers in need, is that satisfying this goal is not a "one-shot" proposition.

Several years ago, when I became a weekly volunteer at Runnells Hospital in Berkeley Heights, several of us visited mainly on the first floor.  The Hospital termed these patients "sub-acute," because usually they were there for physical therapy after hip or knee replacements.  So, after about 4 or 5 weeks these patients would be discharged home and we would not see them again.  We would have had some nice conversations, hopefully relieving some of the tedium of a hospital stay, but at 20 or so minutes per chat each week, we were not really doing much to instill HOPE.  We would have needed time to build a relationship in order for deeper conversations.

At some point, we discovered that a number of patients on the first floor, for whatever reason, occupied rooms that would be theirs for the rest of their lives!  Some had outlived their families;  others had working families or children who lived some distance from Runnells, so their visits to see the family member at Runnells were infrequent and hectic.  We made a point of spending regular time with these "long-term" patients.

Gradually, some beautiful things began to happen.  Not only did the patients begin to tell us how much they looked forward to our visits, but we discovered that under that thin guise of their age and infirmity, they were interesting people, proud to share their feelings, frustrations and hopes for the future.

These long-term relationships began developing several years ago, and they have grown richer each year that passes, for all of us.  Some of our Runnells friends have died in the meanwhile, but it gives us a warm feeling to recall many happy times with them, and the satisfaction of perhaps having brought some HOPE to their final days.

This "seeding" of HOPE does not require one to be a Runnells volunteer!  But it does require intentional long-term effort ---- not just one-shot conversations or one-shot charitable projects.  Interestingly, it also had required  long-term effort to bring such wonderful HOPE to Haiti, as described earlier in this story.

The long-term "seeding" of HOPE in others is satisfying to the giver, too.  Sometimes we may feel a little negativity about the first visit ---- don't we have many other things to do instead of this??  If one passes this test, however, it gets easier and easier to feel the personal satisfaction of "seeding" HOPE in others.

May you in your new year bring some HOPE to others, as we all try to make the world an even better place in 2017 ---- even for one person at a time.

It's your move!


These thoughts are brought to you by the Adult Spiritual Development Team at CPC, hoping to encourage your personal spiritual growth this winter.

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