You may have heard an old proverb: There are three kinds of people in the world—Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who go around saying, "What happened?" I’ve always loved that distinction.
A different but related three-fold difference has been on my mind recently. There are lots of people who will run way from a building that's on fire; there are many others who, from a safe distance, will watch a building burn; and then there are a few brave souls who will actually run toward a building in flames—to see if they can be of help to anyone in there who might desperately need their assistance.
Most of us will go through a time in our lives when it seems that things are burning up, or burning down. An important business or financial opportunity has burned to the ground. A trusted relationship is being consumed by flames. An inner psychological or emotional conflagration has been sparked unexpectedly. And some people we thought we could count on will see it happening and run away. Others may choose to watch from a safe distance. And yet, there are a precious few who will run toward the fire, and into the building, to try to be of help. When there's someone like that in your life, you should be very glad. But what’s even more important is to try your best to be that person for others.
The late novelist Reynolds Price once wrote an amazing short book with the title, Letter to a Man in the Fire. It was a heartfelt response to a correspondence he had with a young medical student whose life and career were suddenly being consumed by the inferno of cancer. The young man had deep and personal questions. The writer ran to the fire and sought to bring him answers.
There are people in our lives who are in a fire. They’re in a burning building. Will you run away to keep yourself safe, or just far from the discomfort it might bring you? Will you watch it all burn from a distance? Or will you run toward the flames to bring whatever help you’re capable of offering? We should want and strive to be in that category. We won’t always succeed. We’ll sometimes fail our fellows and friends. But we can seek to embody that courage in all things to run toward the fire and seek to aid anyone who might be endangered by the flames and need, perhaps, such as we can bring.