"The love of humanity is a noble sentiment, but most of the time we live our lives by smaller solidarities. We learn to love humanity not in general, but through its particular expressions." ~ Montesquieu
Michael Sandel used this quote by Montesquieu in one of his recent lectures on Justice. I spend a lot of time being of use to people I don't know, many of whom I'll never meet, many of whom I'll never even know by name. They are the people I help through my volunteer work, who come across this blog though never reach out to me directly, people who are helped by the nonprofits I donate money to.
I learned to care about the hungry because when I was a kid, I knew what it felt like to be hungry. I learned to write some inspiring words because the inspiring words of so many other writers helped me when I really needed to hear words of encouragement. I learned how important alumni donations are because some alumni helped me receive financial aid through their own charitable contributions; their donations helped me get the education that changed the course of my life so now I donate to my schools so that others like me can receive the help they need. I learned to love children because of my niece, Lorelei, and I learned to love people in general because of how much I love my own family and friends. My particular circumstances shaped how I look at the world as a whole.
This holiday, I wanted to do something special for some people close to me, and in honor of those people, I wanted to do something special for others that I don't know personally. I bought individual Christmas cards for my relatives. After a few recent passings in my family, I realized that I had no more need for a box of Christmas cards. I only needed a handful. I teared up a little in the greeting card aisle and then smiled as I picked out individual cards for my aunties, uncles, and cousins. I packed up a great big box for my immediate family filled with all kinds of goodies - some shared and some individual ones. For New Year's, I'll be having a little party in Florida for some of my very favorite friends. I am so happy to be able to do special things for people I really love.
And for the long-term impact: I have always bought Sebastian, our wonderful family dog, a present for Christmas. This is our first holiday without him, so in his honor I donated to the ASPCA. This week I received a magazine in the mail from Heifer International. It told the stories of the many people that they have helped to reach sufficiency. The stories were so moving that for the first time, I donated to their organization, asking that my contribution be put toward their honey bee program. The hives that my money will provide to several needy families have the ability to turn around an entire village in a very short period of time. So many people helped my family when we really needed the help, and this is a way to pay that kindness forward. It feels good to spread the wealth, to return so many of the favors that I've received over my lifetime.
This Christmas I've enjoyed spending a little time reflecting on my own particular circumstances. I've been thinking about the times when I really needed help, and who helped me, and how. And now that I've come through some tough situations, I want to help someone else, equally in need, whose needs I can identify with. I do believe that the Universe helps those who help themselves, and I also believe that every once in a while the Universe could use a little help and by being that help, we find that our own riches grow.