Think about the simple activity of holding the door open for someone. It doesn’t take much energy; it doesn’t cause much fuss. Just open the door stand there for a few seconds and that’s it. Amazing how something so simple, easy and pain free could be so satisfying. It feels good to help someone even if it isn’t a big deal. My children feel this way as well. When we decorate the Christmas tree they want to help. They get so excited about being involved in a helping activity. Just being asked to carry something excites my middle son. He says, “I’m a big helper.” My kids are at that age where helping their parents is a special activity. I can understand why they get so excited. It’s fun to help other people. It just plain feels good. I wish I felt that way all of the time. Now if only we could live our lives in such a simple and satisfying way.
Putting other people first can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. This is why so many people volunteer to help others. This is why so many people give their hard-earned cash to help those in need. This is why so many of us go out of our way to support worthy and important causes. It may be costly, troublesome, time consuming and downright annoying to volunteer, but in the end we enjoy it. We receive a feeling of satisfaction when we put other people first.
I recently started volunteering at a local soup kitchen. We serve a good meal at lunchtime every Saturday. I met a man by the name of John whom I started to get to know. He comes every week to help with set-up and with cooking. He stays until the very end cleaning and putting things away. I asked him some questions about himself, and he told me how he just recently lost his wife. They were married a long time, and now he is alone. It was very sad to hear. So now he comes to the church that hosts the kitchen on Saturday’s and during the week, if they need anything delivered. And this is his life now that she is gone. I think I would do the same thing. Life is empty without someone to share it with. How much meaning is there in life without someone to take care of? Why sit at home, alone? Why not take care of someone else?
After all isn’t this what we all hope for? Someone to spend our lives with? Someone to take care of? When we are alone we become so anxious, we need to find someone to fall in love with. The drive to fend off loneliness has spawned a multi-billion dollar match making business. But when we find that special someone it must occur to us at some point that love is a two-way street. One can’t be loved and taken care of without putting out love and care in return. People who don’t realize this end up alone again. This analogy extends into our relationships with everyone else we are associated with. If we are to have friends, if we want people to respect us, if we want people to even love us we must be friendly, respectful, and loving in return. If we want people to help us and to take care of us we have to do the same. Life is a two-way street.
And you learn that fast at a soup kitchen. If someone needs to eat, someone has to cook. I do the prep work like cutting carrots, shredding lettuce, slicing tomatoes. Someone else cooks the main meal, which is good because I would probably burn it. Cutting things and throwing them into a salad bowl - that I can do. Then we bring it all out into the main hall and serve it up to the people who come. It’s all worth it when someone says thank you. This is what comes back to you on that two-way street, the grateful thanks of someone who truly needs help. It makes all of the work worth it.
Putting others first is what good parents do. Most of us would say we are good at parenting. We love and care for our child as much as we love and care for ourselves. We would be willing to give our child anything to make things comfortable and safe. We put our children ahead of our own interests. This is a basic truth of good parenting. Parents love their children so much that they are willing to put themselves second behind their child’s best interests. Isn’t the highest form of service to sit with a child day after day and work on his/her homework? The child complains every time Mom pulls the book out. It’s boring to go through the homework and aggravating to deal with a complaining child. And yet, a good parent puts family first.
But isn’t our family more than just the people we are related to? Shouldn’t we treat everyone as family?
I say the answer to that question is yes. Putting others first means treating other people as we treat our family. It means giving the same amount of love and respect we give to our own children to strangers. It means being able to talk to someone we just met with the same concern as we would our own sister. This is a tall order. We don’t always treat our family the way we should, let alone a stranger. But we know in our hearts, that treating everyone as family is the way to becoming a good caring person.
Who are the people we care about the most? It’s safe to say that all of us care most about the people who care about us. Feelings are mutual. Caring people are cared for in return. I have been to funerals where I did not know the deceased person. But I could tell something about that person by the way his/her family talked and acted. I could tell that the deceased person was loved by the way the family loved her. Let’s face it, a loving caring person is loved and cared for in return. It has to start somewhere, so it better start with me.
We don’t have to always be first to be happy. There is much more to happiness than satisfying every whim. Our happiness is dependent upon our relationships with other people. We need to be sensitive and caring of our friends and loved ones in order to experience feelings of contentment. Loving and caring relationships are made by putting others first.