Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day 2: Giving Presents Itself

On the first day of the experiment, an e-mail popped into my inbox with the message: "Giving opportunity for Handscoring employee" (Handscoring is one of the departments in our company, where they score assessment tests). Naturally, given the experiment, this caught my eye.

The message goes on to describe a situation where a truck hit a utility pole, which yanked the power line and the power meter off the house, resulting in a shortage which in turn sparked a fire. The fire ravaged the house, which has to be gutted and largely rebuilt, and destroyed the possessions of the inhabitants - the employee in question, as well as her mother.

Insurance is taking care of the reconstruction and most of the possessions, but now these two people were stuck in a rental unit near the home, while the insurance company and the truck's liability company hammered out the details of who was responsible for what, including extra rounds of damage assessments. So the call was for some household supplies - towels, blankets, various sorts of kitchenware, cleaning supplies, grooming supplies, and so on.

Amber went through the house and found several items of use, mostly blankets (and we got some towels from Amber's mother, as well!). She also offered up an inspirational book which she felt hopefully at least one of the women would enjoy.

This wasn't exactly what I had planned for Day 2, of course, but I did anticipate that these sort of opportunities would spring up as I got into the project. I recall a sermon from our local pastor, while the idea for this project was percolating, about how to know when to offer help to someone in need, and the sign was a simple one:

Notice the need

In essence, the argument was that if you notice that someone has a need, then you should step in to see how you can help that person fill that need. End of story. There is no debating over whether or not the person is worthy of this help, or anything else. Just offer help.

While the pastor framed this in a Christian perspective, such doctrines are nearly universally present across many different spiritual teachings the world over. Nor is this confined to spiritual individuals. Vocal atheists such as Richard Dawkins strenuously support the importance of personal morality, even while completely rejecting a spiritual basis for this morality. The central tenet of this morality, in both the spiritual and atheistic contexts, is based around the recognition and alleviation of suffering and hardship. Something within us - built into us by whatever mechanism does such things - recognizes that this activity is moral. Though we can (and should) discuss and debate the source of that morality, there is no denying that it's moral. (Unless, of course, you're Ayn Rand ... but more on that another day.)

Part of the purpose of the project is to cultivate my own ability to notice need and alleviate it. And I like that the opportunity arose so early, and hope it will continue to do so. There's a lot of need out there, so I don't expect it to be a rare event.