There 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.
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