Wednesday, August 13, 2008

new ways to dream

Factor #12 -- offering help to others graciously
Factor #13 -- accepting help from others

In his Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin tells us that as a young man of 20, he attempted to develop a system that would improve his character. He identified 13 virtues (frugality, sincerity, justice, and the like), worked on one virtue each week, and then moved on to the next. The system was ingenious because he could complete the list in a quarter of a year; in a full year he worked on each virtue four times.

He eventually abandoned the project. One reason: he found that he was proud of his work on humility.

And that sentence encapsulates the problem of discussing today's topic. Post-modernism has warped ethical discussions. Franklin would have laughed at the oxymoronic quip; Paris Hilton would happily show her pride in her humility.

Like Franklin, I have long worked at developing my character. The issue that keeps surfacing is that almost every one of my vices centers around me -- that is, I center everything around me. To counter that, I have been working on offering help to others graciously, and accepting help from others. The question is whether living in Mexico will make the task easier or more difficult.

I am not talking about mere charity (in the demeaned contemporary use of that word). Instead, I am seeking the classic disciplines of simplicity, submission, and service. All offered with love and grace. Without the pollution of self-aggrandizement and paternalism. (Now, you see why I started with a discussion of Franklin. I am sinking in my own philosophical trap.)

The corollary of putting oneself after all others is being willing to accept help when it is offered or needed. In ten years of attending my church, I have been an active member of our prayer team. Not once have I asked for a prayer about any of my concerns or needs. That either shows an immense lack of faith or an overabundance of hubris.

Of course, there is a cost. While typing this post, I noticed that a blue, brown, and copper butterfly (a hedgerow hairstreak, I believe) managed to trap itself in the sun room where I am working. I very carefully used a glass and paper to capture it -- in the hope that I could avoid having it lose too many scales from its wings. It had no notion that I was trying to help. As far as it knew, I was going to eat it.

I walked outside with it, admiring how small, fragile, and beautiful it was. Butterflies always look like animated Fabergé eggs to me. I carefully took the paper off the glass. The butterfly sat motionless until it felt the breeze. It moved. Paused. And flew up as alive as it ever had been -- only to be grabbed by a swallow.

Is this factor still important to me?

If I had to prioritize the factors I have discussed, these two would be at the top.

Grade for Melaque:


In fact, I think I could give an A to anyplace in the world.

Many Mexicans have learned the joy of turning lose of the corrupting power of possessions. Anecdotes are legion where a guest compliments the host about some object, and ends up being the recipient of the admired object.

I am not so naive as to believe that Mexicans do not have the same material desires as other humans. Of course, they do. But it will be a good place for me to learn to give more -- and to be willing to admit that I also have needs.

Next post: the teacher grades the paper


Brenda said...

It is just so much easier to give than to ask for help. You may need to work hard on that one.

Steve Cotton said...

Brenda -- Well said. And I think most of us feel that way,

Anonymous said...

when we did our first tour in japan, i admired a stuffed pheasant in a neighbor's home. well, guess who ended up with it? the pheasant ended up being a world traveler, going with us to sicily then n.y. where the manager in our apt. complimented it and then graciously accepted it as a gift. i'd wanted to get rid of it but didn't have the heart to throw it away. the moral of the story is, be careful when giving compliments or you may end up with an unwanted item.

i agree with brenda, it is much easier to give than ask for help. but people are usually very happy to help when someone is in need. so, learn to ask, or as the Bible says, seek and you shall receive.

give mr. jiggs a hug for me. he reminds me so much of my digger, but i already told you about him so i won't repeat it.

take care,
teresa f.

Babs said...

You are in for a delightful surprise when you move to Mexico - I've spent much time watching children play with a plastic water bottle, or making a kite out of a trash bag and playing for hours, or the best, chunking pebbles into the presa.........The lack of materialism is a joy! And giving -um is the word when you like something or you get it! Truly.

Steve Cotton said...

Teresa -- Thanks for the suggestions. I will keep them in mind. Jiggs thanks you for the hug.

Babs -- Children around the world seem to have the ability to find joy in whatever they can find. I suspect many parents, with the best of intentions, have stripped layers of creativity from their children's lives by providing too much. The best thing I ever did was to rid myself of my television.

Babs said...

Aaah, but you're missing the inspiration of the Olympics!

Steve Cotton said...

Babs, No. I am enjoying Jiggs's company in the park and in my yard.