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The Fear of Giving

The fear is real. I know, because I’ve experienced it personally. You see something stark, or tragic, or unthinkable, and have a sudden, overwhelming urge to help. To do, to fix, to solve. To step in, to end suffering, to save. And what a wonderful emotional rush it is.

And then, you do nothing.

I sat on a small, dusty bus with perhaps a dozen others, bumping and lurching through the crowded, pot-holed, narrow streets on the outskirts of the Haitian capital. This was my first trip to Haiti with my church; we had come for the week to make repairs to an orphanage and school that had been damaged in the recent 2010 earthquake that nearly destroyed Port-au-Prince. We were driving for the first time from our shady hotel to the rural orphanage site several miles outside of town.

I had read countless books about Haiti before getting on a plane from Miami that finally took me there. I knew it was poor; I knew it was hot; I knew the people worked hard, had good hearts, and yet still, they suffered. But I was not prepared for what I saw through that bus window. Not prepared for the images of sweating, hardened men pushing wheelbarrows filled with goods they would try to sell through dusty, muddy streets with inadequate or even nonexistent sewage systems. Not prepared to see the women, desperation in their brows, sitting on the sidewalks with their mangos and sugarcane spread out before them, shouting out their prices. Not prepared for the children, eyes squeezed shut, standing naked in a metal wash bin as a sibling poured sudsy water over their heads for their morning bath.

I saw, and felt guilty for my sheltered life. A life with a loving family, a small house, groceries, and a car that would, most of the time, get me where I needed to go. I stared out the bus window and had a sudden image of myself, swooping in with a fleet of garbage trucks and sanitation workers that would restore the streets of Haiti and eliminate the need to endlessly set fire to trash piles. Next, I provided each and every person with a sturdy pair of shoes, and a little change in their pockets to buy a taste of the world’s best mangoes from their neighbor. I gave every man and woman a job, rebuilt their glorious Presidential Palace (which had crumbled and toppled in the recent quake), and sent every child to an air-conditioned, white-washed school with the best Haitian teachers.

Impossible, said my inner self.

And the bus lurched on.

Years later, I still remembered my vision to help an entire island of beautiful people.

What’s the point? I asked myself; I’m only one person; what could I possibly do?

With this, I rationalized and justified my inaction.

My fear of doing too little had stopped me from doing anything at all.

Things began to change for me when I resized my vision. What if I could help even one person, give one person hope or do one act of kindness for a stranger...wouldn’t that still mean something?

And I realized it wasn’t about me. Not about how I felt when giving, but about the person receiving. About them, that man, woman or child “over there”. That total stranger less advantaged, filled with desire, desperation and hope; blessed with ambition and intelligence, with a simple lack of access to opportunity.

Forget about me; how would they feel?

We don’t have to “change the world” or “make the world a better place” (lovely, inspiring, perhaps over-used sayings) for our actions to have meaning. We can simply hug, smile, make a phone call or offer a ride and we have made a difference. Perhaps you may not feel gratified in the large, satisfying way you desire, but’s not about you.

It’s about them. Your neighbor, your sibling, your parent, a stranger. No one who receives an act of kindness thinks your act was small.

Every action you make in life has an impact: negative or positive; big or small. Fear of inadequacy cannot be an option. We must trust that any action, no matter how small, is having an impact. That it has made someone smile, lifted a spirit, offered hope or provided inspiration.

Giving hope to even just one person is a whole lot better than to no one at all.

Giving is our super power, and the ability to impact even just one person is one of Superman proportions. You have a cape, it’s on your back. It’s been there all along...just don’t be afraid to use it.

“We only have what we give.”

Isabel Allende

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