It hasn’t been done before. (Really?)

February 25, 2013
By

offeringThere seems to be something inherent to humanity—at least to current humans—that makes us want to believe that our efforts are unique, unequaled, and unmatched.

Several years ago, I was contacted by a British group that wanted to help children living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda.  They asked if I could help one of their staff members learn from our best practices.  “Of course!” I replied.  And I hosted the person as a personal guest for a couple of weeks.  We remained in contact for the next couple of years as the group made plans to move to Uganda and help children.

Finally, they opened their center, and put up a website which claimed that they were the “First in Uganda” to do what my organization had been doing for years—nearly a decade.  I nicely called them, and pointed out the “mistake” on their website.  Initially, they argued.  But with time, they nicely changed the wording to read “one of the first in Uganda to help children living with HIV/AIDS.”  More accurate, but still inaccurate.

And I wondered why the notion of “first” ranked above the precious commodities of compassion and care—no matter how many people had acted on compassion before.

Today, I received a call from a colleague who has been asked to consult on a project also claiming to be the “first” in a certain field in Africa (though they’re not).

While I don’t really care about the time-ranking, it again made me wonder about the priority-ranking that demotes compassion to a place beneath the timing of its heroine/hero.

What motivates me?  Is it compassion for my fellow person, or is it competition for my next accomplishment?

For “western” humans, incentives matter a lot.  We seem to thrive on winning, and on getting there first.

But let us not lose the magic of giving, of offering what we have—open-handed, fully giving—and thus receiving more than we ever imagined.

And let us not lose sight of these most precious gifts of compassion and care—no matter whether or not others have offered the exact same gift before, the same relief—the same care.

May we be as good as our offering.

6 Responses to It hasn’t been done before. (Really?)

  1. Lynne
    February 26, 2013 at 6:01 am

    Currently the city, businesses, churches and other nonprofits are joining together to tackle homelessness in the city of Chandler. We do not have a homeless shelter, so different groups host homeless guests each night. My husband has had trouble getting some groups to join in the initiative, because they want to only do their thing and get full credit, rather than join in a cooperative effort. I, too, pray we can be open-handed, fully giving and offer our gifts of compassion and care.

    • February 26, 2013 at 10:50 am

      Lynne, the sense of competition in compassion has always baffled me. I will be praying about your efforts there.

  2. Nancy Miller
    February 26, 2013 at 7:19 am

    What a great question! As I struggle with my question about “Do I want to go back to Africa to work?”, I am looking at my deep down personal questions. Why do I want to do it? There are many answers, of course. But I am wanting to pull out the shadow reasons, too. The recognition issues of doing something that few can, or think they can, or want to do. Doing something that others think is noble, fascinating, exotic………………….

    Thanks, Nathaniel, for nudging me to ponder this more!

  3. February 26, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Nancy, I am glad that this resonated with you, and perhaps serves as another avenue as you explore intentions. I am thinking of you.

  4. Nancy Miller
    February 27, 2013 at 6:52 am

    Thanks Nathaniel!!

  5. Elton Hicks
    February 27, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    I learned this behavior of needing to be best and first from my father a long time ago. My father had his own plumbing business and in business, competition can be very fierce. Everyone would always claim to be best or first in their advertisements. This need to be best amused my father, so his response was to tell everyone he was the second best plumber in Arizona, no one ever argued with him. Imagine a world where everyone stopped trying to be “the best” and just tried to do their best.

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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