Multiplying the Light
I don’t really think it’s a human failing, but it is human nature. When all you know is the small world around you, it’s easy to over-dramatize the problems within that world. It’s easy to feel busy without feeling fulfilled, and to see emptiness where others see abundance.
I believe that true gratitude is what makes us feel complete. But it’s very hard to feel that level of deep thankfulness until you have been in places and in situations that shake up your worldview and give you new appreciation for what you have. Sure, we all know—in an abstract, intellectual way—that there are many people in the world with greater problems than we have. But images on TV are one thing. When you actual visit those communities and those people are sitting before you and looking in your eyes…well, that’s when the human instinct for empathy and gratitude really kicks in.
For an example, go to this page on the Open Wide Foundation’s website, click on the “Why OWF” link beside one of our Committee Chairs, Dr. Michael Johnson, and read about his experience. Read about how he has served what he calls “some of the most humble and appreciative people” he’s met, and how he feels he has gotten so much more from their culture than he has given. I particularly like how he has brought his kids with him on expeditions, so they too can see that there is a world beyond their own, one that is rich in ways they could never fully appreciate until they experienced it firsthand. That’s the secret of the Open Wide Foundation: We do it for the people in need, but we get a lot from it, too. We get to see our lives and our actions in a greater, more meaningful context. And that is an incredibly valuable gift.
There is a Buddhist saying that captures this beautifully: Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. You use your resources every day to illuminate your little corner of the world. But it doesn’t take much to spread that abundance and to bring that light to darker parts of the world beyond. And when you do, the light reflects back on you with renewed brightness and warmth.