Tuesday, January 29, 2013

More on heroes

In my last post I mentioned a number of outstanding individuals who are actively working to improve the world.  What impressed me the most was that for the most part, these modern day heroes were engaged in their various activities, not for fame and money, but because they truly believe that it is part and parcel to what it means to be human.  Don't get me wrong, I admire the efforts of men like Bill Gates who do tremendous good through their philanthropic donations, but to put your life, career, and financial stability on the line to do what is right, that is truly heroic.

To continue this line of thought, I have a few more names for you to consider.  I know I have mentioned many times that I read the Smithsonian magazine, but I may not have revealed that I also read the National Geographic.  January's edition of the Nat Geo featured a celebration of their 125th anniversary, and included multiple articles on why we, individually and collectively, explore.  And, of course, the articles included glimpses at some of today's explorers.  Like those in December's Smithsonian these people fly under the radar yet contribute to the knowledge of humankind while breaking the boundaries of their respective disciplines. 

From Cory Richards who achieved the first winter ascent of the 26,362 foot Gasherbrum II peak in Pakistan to Brian Skerry's photographs of rarely seen undersea creatures there are many unknown yet highly motivated and curious individuals who continue mankind's ongoing desire to go where no man has gone before.

Of course, most of us don't have the talent, motivation and/or resources to devote our lives to being the first, or the best, or the most daring.  Yet, if we assume that the meaning and purpose of our lives is to leave the world a better place than when we arrived, we don't have to do anything famous or be especially daring or courageous.

I recently was made aware of a college campus where the students have created a program to take the food that restaurants, diners, supermarkets, etc are about to throw away and get it into the hands of those who are hungry or without the means to purchase their own food.  I am not talking about old burgers which have been sitting under the heat lamp of your nearest fast food place, but real food that may be close to the end of its shelf life.  I also recently was told of a local retailer/food outlet that donates its close to expiration date food to our local food bank.  Considering the sober statistic that upwards of 40% of all food is wasted in this great country, simple programs that prevent food waste while battling hunger do not take large sums of money or a night on a mountaintop to be effective.

I turned 18 just after the mandatory draft ended in the United States, so this may sound a bit disingenuous, but I wonder if some type of volunteer requirement should be developed for all Americans, especially our young people.  I am not talking about Doctors Without Borders, but something much more locally based that reminds all of us that we were fortunate to have been born in this country and that part of that privilege is to give back.  Service at local elementary schools, nursing homes, food kitchens, hospitals, etc.   Perhaps as a requirement to graduate high school, or as a way to reduce student loan interest or principle, or, sorry fellow liberals, as a way to earn one's unemployment.  Frankly, I would prefer a tradition of volunteerism to be the driver of such a program, but sometimes traditions need a start, a gentle push, to begin.

To me, one of the most glaring hypocrisies of our American culture, is the deep seated belief that we are a Christian nation, while we seem to worship the dollar so extensively.  Each year, Forbes publishes a list of the most richest people on earth, with the only criteria being their actual or alleged net worth.  But is the world better off for those people having so much money?  Did they attain it through the invention of a computer, or by selling weapons of mass destruction?  Is the richest person on earth wealthy because of her intellect, or because she runs multi-national companies that move jobs from one country to another chasing after the cheapest labor?

Perhaps service to one's fellow man, even for only six months or a year, might temper that desire to be the richest man on earth, and light the fire within us to be the most selfless person on earth.

In the meantime, the next time you are walking to your car in a parking lot, or to your house or your workplace, and you see a plastic bottle in the street, or a plastic bag, or an empty pack of cigarettes, take a second, pick it up and throw it away.  Extend your concern for a clean house to a clean neighborhood, a clean city, a clean state.  Or better yet, the next time you see a someone struggling to reach the top shelf at the grocery store, or carry their bags to their car, or open a door with their hands full, lend a hand.  Volunteering, helping your fellow man, does not have to be via an organized group but can just be one human treating another humanely.

Volunteer, and be a better person.       

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