Our Impact on Others
In my previous blog, I endeavoured to unpack what a Catholic education is and how it is different to other secular forms of education. One key difference I pointed out was our pursuit of trying to develop in our boys a sense of other. The importance of being aware of others in our lives can never be underestimated. As social beings we come into continual contact with numerous people every day, our family, our peers, our colleagues, and not to mention the strangers we encounter throughout a day, but do we ever stop to consider the impact we have on them by our actions or inactions, by what we say or what we fail to say?
Whether we like it or not, the way we live our lives directly or indirectly impacts on people and not only the ones with whom we come into contact. So the question I wish to pose is: ‘How do we want to contribute to, or, detract from our community, our world?’
I share a story with you that has done the rounds on the internet, and while a little different from the original, I share it because of its simple but powerful message.
One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw a kid from my class walking home from school. His name was Kyle. It looked like he was carrying all of his books. I thought to myself, “Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday? He must really be a nerd.” I had quite a weekend planned (parties and a football game with my friend tomorrow afternoon), so I shrugged my shoulders and went on. As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him. They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt. His glasses went flying, and I saw them land in the grass about ten feet from him. He looked up and I saw this terrible sadness in his eyes. My heart went out to him. So, I jogged over to him and as he crawled around looking for his glasses, and I saw a tear in his eye.
As I handed him his glasses, I said, “Those guys are jerks. They really should get lives.” He looked at me and said, “Hey thanks!” There was a big smile on his face. It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude.
I helped him pick up his books, and asked him where he lived. As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before. He said he had gone to private school before now. I would have never hung out with a private school kid before.
We talked all the way home, and I carried his books. He turned out to be a pretty cool kid. I asked him if he wanted to play football on Saturday with me and my friends. He said yes. We hung all weekend and the more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him. And my friends thought the same of him.
Monday morning came, and there was Kyle with the huge stack of books again. I stopped him and said, “Damn boy, you are gonna really build some serious muscles with this pile of books everyday!” He just laughed and handed me half the books. Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best friends. When we were seniors, began to think about college. Kyle decided on Georgetown, and I was going to Duke. I knew that we would always be friends, that the smiles would never be a problem. He was going to be a doctor, and I was going for business on a football scholarship. Kyle was Valedictorian of our class.
I teased him all the time about being a nerd. He had to prepare a speech for graduation. I was so glad it wasn’t me having to get up there and speak. Graduation day, I saw Kyle.
He looked great. He was one of those guys that really found himself during high school. He filled out and actually looked good in glasses. He had more dates than me and all the girls loved him! Boy, sometimes I was jealous.
Today was one of those days. I could see that he was nervous about his speech. So, I smacked him on the back and said, “Hey, big guy, you’ll be great!” He looked at me with one of those looks (the really grateful one) and smiled. “Thanks,” he said.
As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and began. “Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years. Your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach … but mostly your friends. I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give them. I am going to tell you a story.” I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the story of the first day we met. He had planned to kill himself over the weekend. He talked of how he had cleaned out his locker so his Mom wouldn’t have to do it later and was carrying his stuff home. He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile. “Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable.” I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy told us all about his weakest moment.
I saw his Mom and Dad looking at me and smiling that same grateful smile. Not until that moment did I realize its depth. Never underestimate the power of your actions.
With one small gesture you can change a person’s life. For better or for worse. God puts us all in each other’s lives to impact one another in some way. Look for God in others.
This touching story about the nerdy kid who was saved from himself by the intervention of a kindly schoolmate began its Internet life in February 2000. It is a rewritten, first-person version of “A Simple Gesture,” an inspirational tale penned by John W. Schlatter and published in the 1993 bestseller Chicken Soup for the Soul. In the original version, the two boys are called “Mark” and “Bill,” and the tale is related in the third person, not as something that happened to the author (as the online variant presents it).
The tale is best viewed as a parable meant to encourage acts of compassion by pointing out the consequences of actions and inactions through the power of example. “Had this boy not been moved to lend a hand,” says the story, “this other lad would have died.”
Sometimes we forget that it is the simple actions or gestures in life that are the most powerful. We don’t have to be superman and save people from a burning building to have a profound impact on them, nor do we need to enact a criminal act on a person to have a profound negative impact on someone. Simple gestures of saying hello, a smile, letting someone through at a register in a supermarket can have a significant impact on someone’s day or maybe even their lives. However, a derogative name, an act of bullying, or a put down can equally take the wind out of a person’s day or perhaps even their lives.
The significance of my point is made all the more important in the self-centric world in which we live. There are times I feel we have lost the sense of a fair go for all or our level of care for others in our community, especially the marginalised and most vulnerable in our community. Many in our society seem to have adopted the sole focus of ‘me’. This is certainly not true of everyone and we often see examples of people giving of themselves in the support of others. Examples including the Royal Children’s Hospital appeal, natural disaster appeals, and reactions to human tragedies as seen recently in the vigil for an unfortunate victim of crime, are all fine examples of people responding to others. However, it tends to be the little considerations or the issues that are not in our face that seem to be neglected.
Everyday events like road rage, cutting in on our roads, failing to offer seats to members of our community who may need them more than ourselves, imposing our bad moods on others without any awareness of the impact these actions are likely to have on those around us, in particular our friends and families. Businesses that are driven by making a buck regardless of the costs to others as witnessed in the Banking Royal Commission are all signs of a society focused on self. Too often human tragedies in far off places are forgotten as we take for granted our privileged lives.
Our Don Bosco Oratory Week is the right time for me to emphasise this point as we encourage our boys to raise funds for the Fiji community of Nasinu where our support will offer strong financial support for their plans to build a youth centre. A centre which will offer the young men and women in this community a place for gathering socially, to be educated, to celebrate their faith. Our small contributions will have a significant impact on their lives.
Don Bosco’s Oratory Week is a celebration of everything community. Whilst the main focus remains on our College community, a significant element of the week is how we can help others less fortunate than ourselves. It is a time where we encourage students to develop an understanding and commitment to the need for consideration of the greater good. I ask our boys and all of this wonderful community to respond accordingly, as we always do, as we endeavour to make this world a better place. I encourage all in the community to do the simple things throughout the week, to share a smile, to bring a positive attitude, to consciously go about our day with a real purpose of trying to make other people’s lives better.