I believe we all have a spiritual need to feel useful, to take action to make a difference in the world, on however big or small a scale. And I also think that this provides us with an important hint as to how we should approach each day.
In a recent New York Times article, Nicholas Kristof reported on some new studies on whether philanthropic giving really makes a difference, long term, for people living in poverty. It turns out that the most effective giving involves a cow, or a goat, or chickens. Seeds also help. What doesn't help much, it seems, is money. It's all about a certain way of giving hope, through an opportunity for action.
When impoverished people are given a useful animal, one that can provide milk or eggs, as well as a form of companionship, and almost a sort of partnership, they become more active generally in their lives. They work more, they take more odd jobs, they have a new form of hope. They've been given the possibility of an activity, a usefulness in their own lives, that can make a difference for how they and their families live. And this is a form of giving that works. You know the old adage about giving a man a fish, or teaching him how to fish. Research now bears this out in more ways that we might have imagined.
And this provides a hint for all of us. How much time do you spend wishing things were better, or simply regretting the way things are? Most of us perceive a gap between where we are and where we'd like to be. And it bothers us. We worry about it. Or we even resent it. Sometimes, we feel hopeless to change it. Imagining how things could be better can almost take the wind out of our sails, if we stay passive in those imaginings.
But here's the insight: We all need a cow or a goat or some chickens. We need seeds. But then we need to plant the seeds. It's not merely having a cow, but taking action and milking it. It's not just the companionship of chickens, the camaraderie of the coop, but gathering the eggs that makes a big difference for impoverished people.
And here's something universal. We all need to feel a sense of control over our destinies. Desperately poor people given a cow develop that sense and experience hope. They're given a path, something they can do to feel some measure of control over their destinies. We all need that.
It seems to me that we all have a spiritual need for a sense of usefulness, and control, and action. We need to feel that we can begin to close the gap between what is and what could be. For me, the cow, or goat, might be my personal library, or my computer, or my website. I can read and discover. I can write. For you, it might be the same thing. Or something about your job could be it. Or a friend may provide you, through your relationship with him or her, that metaphorical goat, or those chickens you need. But remember that you need to take action.
When we see opportunity, we feel a glimmer of hope, and that combined with real actions, however small, can create a path forward.
What's your cow? What's your goat? Where are your chickens? When we clearly identify our opportunities and act on them daily, we begin to close the gap and move into our proper future with the feeling of hope that will help to get us there.