Friday, September 28, 2007

Want Bliss? Don't Be a Jerk.

OK, this one is personal. I am writing this with scraped hands, a leg propped up, and an ice pack on my knee. No, no one pushed me over. That's not exactly where the jerk part comes in.

Actually, what happened may have been even worse. I'll let you decide that. But as I was walking to my parking garage after work, I slipped on an acorn (those damn things are everywhere now) and took a pretty bad tumble. I banged up my knee nice and good, and my hands began bleeding almost instantly. The contents of my purse, according to Murphy's law, emptied themselves in their entirety onto the pavement. (And why is it that the tampons always end up the furthest away?)

Here's the jerk part. Four people were nearby, the furthest at no more than 50 feet, the closest about 20 feet behind me. And guess what? They all looked at me, but no one said a good goddamn thing. Not even a tentative I-don't-really-know-how-I-can-help-but-I'll-ask-anyway "Are you okay?"

Not even from the father LEADING HIS SON IN HIS BOY SCOUT UNIFORM. People talk about setting an example, but I don't think that's generally what they mean.

Do I sound a little angry? Maybe even a little overly angry? Maybe. But here's why this bothers me. I'll be fine, yes, but that's not the point. The point is that we must never become so self-involved that we fail to help someone when we can. That is when we fail to be human. Once or twice won't turn you into the grinch, but a lifetime of looking the other way will, and then, I'm sorry to report, you won't ever find your bliss, because you will no longer have the soul that is required to find bliss. That's why getting pushed is actually less terrible: at least someone pushing you is doing so out of motivation, anger, some reason. Someone ignoring what they plainly see is someone too small and mean to care. I submit to you that that is worse.

If you want to live a good life, the one that you are meant for, you must never forget how to be generous. How to serve. How to inconvenience yourself occasionally for others because it is the right thing to do. How to care for someone less fortunate. How to feel empathy. In other words, I am saying that yes, on the path to bliss, it is important to be a good person.

One day after class at the University of Arizona, I was on my bike, getting ready to leave for home, when I saw a suspicious guy hanging around the bike racks. Now, the UofA is a notorious bike thief's paradise, so I kinda figured I'd watch him. And sure enough, he kept going back and forth between crouching near a bike and then standing around like everything was completely normal. A few people passed me, and I said, "I think that guy is trying to steal a bike," and they all looked me like, "Oh. Fascinating," and moved along. I realized no one was going to call campus police, so I started circling him on my bike, staring him down.

It was really a battle of wills--who was going to get scared and give up first--one that I won, though after about 5 minutes. As soon as he left, I rode to the nearest campus police phone box, and called them in.

As I waited for the cops, I felt really good about looking out for someone, hoping that someone else might do the same for me. The cops showed up, and I started to give them my report when the bike's owner showed up. She lifted the bike's cable lock, and sure enough, it had been nearly clipped through. She came up to me, thanked me for protecting her bike, and then she said this: "Yeah, this is really great, because right now my bike is the only transportation I've got. My car was stolen last week."

And in that moment, I felt a surge of happiness. My small sacrifice of time and energy had really made a difference in this girl's life. It's the kind of thing I try to do as often as I can, and I know it has the effect of preparing your soul, your heart, your life for more happiness and bigger responsibility. Because if you think living your bliss doesn't come with responsibility, then you're not conceiving of your bliss properly. For, if nothing else, your bliss requires that you do the best you can, all while remaining a good, generous and honest person.

So the next time you see someone down, it's not enough just to not kick them. You must also not ignore them (though you can pretend not to see the scattered tampons). Just do what's right. Because jerks don't get to experience bliss.


Anonymous said...

Tiffany, great blog!

Studies have shown that the more people that are around when something like this happens, the less likely each of them is to take the initiative to help. I guess everyone thinks, "One of those other guys can help her."

And sometimes, I think people just freeze when a situation comes up where someone needs help. Last week I was on a train to New York City and a woman got stuck in the bathroom at the opposite end of the train car I was sitting in. As she pounded on the door, I saw people close to the bathroom looking concerned, and I thought, "One of THEM will help her." It never occurred to me that *I* could hustle down the length of the car and help her. Thankfully, after a few minutes someone managed to open the door. But I was ashamed that I didn't take action myself.

Linda F.

Tiffany Hamburger said...

Hi Linda--
thanks for the comment! Yeah, I think the term for this is the "diffusion of responsibility" or something like that.

And we've all done it--I know I have definitely passed by a few people in need in my lifetime who have needed help, hoping that someone else would do it.

I guess I just hope this can serve as a reminder--this event definitely reminded me--as to how important it can be to be the actor that you hope will come along! :-)

Anonymous said...

You are right to be angry! Not only because you were left bereft of help you could’ve used but because the human race is better than that. Every one of us has the capacity to live with light and practice compassion; to do any less is to forfeit the essence of humanity. Small kindnesses build upon themselves, but so do acts of apathy and carelessness, such as the type you’re recording here. There’s a song where Ani DiFranco says, “If more people were screaming, maybe then I could relax,” and although she’s specifically talking about the plight of the financially impoverished, I think the same sentiment can and should be applied to the plight of the spiritually impoverished. People of the sort who passed you by without offering assistance, these are people who have lost touch with their inner light and, without deep inner change, will not find their bliss. Even worse, their negativity could serve to hinder those around them from finding their true happiness. It’s a situation that should piss you off. I know it gets to me.

Let’s get mad. Then let’s go back to living lives that serve as an example of what a person can become – possibly not rich, maybe not famous, but glowing with inner harmony expressed through compassion towards both ourselves and others. People are capable of great good, but modern life and the dissolution of a sense of community must be counteracted by strong individuals living mindfully.

Part of living mindfully (AKA, “not being a jerk”!) is providing succor when possible, but the other part is to express gratitude. It never, ever does any harm to thank a person for the actions they have taken or words they have spoken that have had a positive effect on you. It doesn’t matter if the person you’re thanking is “only doing their job” or that you’ll never see them again, as is the case when giving a friendly wave to the person who let you merge into their lane earlier today. It surprises me how often people are startled to have someone say ‘thanks.’ It’s such an easy way to make life nicer. Not to mention it feels good to have someone acknowledge your efforts and, by proxy, your humanity.

On that note, thanks for writing this post, Tiffany! I hope your hands and knees are healing nicely. My husband and I are busy spending oodles of time painting & prepping our new house (our house, ohmygoshWow!), but I look forward to catching up w/ your blog posts as I can.