In our current age of divisiveness, it feels to me as if we have somehow forgotten America’s motto, E Pluribus Unum, or out of many, one. Instead, our society appears to be increasingly splintered along fault lines defined by race, class, gender, party or hundreds of other attributes.
In thinking about this issue, I’ve been questioning how we can work to regain a common sense of purpose, empathy and shared humanity as individuals and as a nation. One answer I’ve come to is for each of us to examine our own behavior. For example, in my own life, one of the most satisfying and fulfilling things I’ve embraced in my journey is finding ways to connect with others by helping them in some small way; In my experience, those we assist are truly the givers in such as relationship.
Perhaps it’s a legacy of lessons learned in Sunday School, such as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The story recalls how a Jewish man was beaten, robbed and left to die alongside a well-trodden road. The twist is that he’s ignored by his passing neighbors and countrymen, too busy to be bothered with another person’s misfortune. He’s ultimately ministered to by a sworn enemy – the unclean Samaritan –who stops, provides first aid and pays for his lodging and recovery.
At the time, this would have been a powerful story given the centuries-long intense dislike and hostility that existed between Jews and Samaritans, not to mention its blatant criticism of the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious establishment. It’s as if a rival gang member were to attend to one of his sworn enemies, rather than dispatch him. The unanswered question is why this Samaritan chooses to demonstrate mercy and rise above the bigotry and prejudice to care for the injured man.
When I lived in Illinois, my daughter Laura resided nearby in Madison, Wisconsin. On occasion, I’d drive to spend the weekend with her. At the time, toll booths were not automated. I would often tell the attendant I wanted to also pay the toll for the car in line behind me. Why? Because it lifts the spirits of the receiver and the giver – adding a ray of light to the lives of complete strangers can be a transformational experience and speaks to the kindness of humanity.
One of my favorite chapters in my upcoming book, Your Turn is on the topic of gratitude – showing respect for others and understanding their story is an essential part of being a Good Samaritan.
My church in Chicago used to organize volunteers to serve meals to homeless people. One Saturday night, as we were setting up our serving line downtown, it began to rain. We’d set up the serving table and kettle of soup against the curb, but in the street. Our hungry, drenched friends hung their plastic bags of food on the wrought iron fence as they ate.
As I stood at the head of the serving line, I would introduce myself by name and recite the evening’s sandwich choices. I’ll never forget Matt, one of my customers that night.
“What would you prefer?” Matt simply stood there gawking at me. “Sir,” I repeated, “we have bologna, chicken and peanut butter as well as a choice of fruit.”
After a long drawn out silence, Matt said, “Ma’am, I haven’t been called “Sir” in so long that I can’t remember the last time.” Tears welled up in Matt’s eyes.
Goosebumps surged down my spine. I was so stunned by his response that I stepped out from behind the serving table and put my hand out to shake his.
“My name’s Tyra. What’s yours?” I asked.
“I’m Matt,” he said. Our hands clasped.
“It’s so nice to meet you. Matt, there’s mustard or mayonnaise and hot coffee at the end of the line.
Enjoy. And Matt, it’s so good to meet you.”
Matt and the other guests we served that night may have gained temporary sustenance from a hearty meal, but I left that night inspired in the realization that Matt and his friends were the true givers. The gift was mine; I will never forget Matt. Making a difference in the lives of others sometimes just takes the smallest acts of kindness.
Here’s six ways you can be a Good Samaritan and uplift the spirits of your loved ones, friends and complete strangers:
- Invite Your Neighbors Over for a Meal – in our digitally-driven, fast-paced society, we often don’t find the time to reach out to members of our community and our neighbors. Invite your neighbors over for a meal so you can connect with new people, find out about their lives and make new friends.
- Volunteer at a Local Nonprofit – each of our towns and cities has valuable organizations that are driving change in the community. Whether it’s a homeless shelter, animal rescue or youth education center, volunteer for an organization that helps empower the community and people around you.
- Call a Friend or Family Member – for those who live far away from friends or family, it’s difficult to find time to re-connect. Try calling a friend or relative that you haven’t talked to in a while to show them you are still thinking about them. Showing support to the people who matter most to you leads to a more fulfilling life.
- Donate – give financial assistance, food or necessities to an organization that speaks to your values.
- Help an Elderly Friend – take an elderly friend or family member to the grocery store, doctor’s office or park. Assisting our elders shows our gratitude for the support they have provided over the years to make our lives better.
- Become a Mentor – join a program where you can mentor someone and lead their lives in a better direction. Boys and Girls Club of America is one such organization that helps connect our nation’s youth to mentors who can radically change their lives in a new direction.
Share examples of your experience in being a Good Samaritan or have yourself benefited from the support of your own Good Samaritan.
© Tyra Manning 2019