Another Kind Of Bailout Plan
Posted by Shephali Patel on Nov 3, 2008
Let’s just say New York is not on the up-and-up. People who are out of work can’t find jobs, and every day the people you know that do have jobs are losing them. Daily reminders about economic turmoil at every corner are slowly spreading anxiety and fear. How could we help? The only thing we know how to do is small acts, so we set out last Saturday to do some Random Acts of Kindness.
Irrelevant, trivial, possibly useless contribution you say? A frivolous endeavor in the face of impending economic doom? Perhaps. Probably. But let’s think about it for a second. For most, the creation of identity is based on acquisition strategy. We build our definition of our “self” primarily through acquiring knowledge, accomplishments, titles, cars, houses, gadgets, friends, spouses, affiliations, accolades…the list is endless. What happens when we loose these things? If they are taken away from us, diminish in “value”, or just gone one day? Are we less? Do we cease to exist, or matter as unique individuals? It’s an open debate, but I’m going to say no. We are not these things. Our value and power as individuals lie outside of these things. I think we all understand this intellectually. But because it is the normal human tendency, it is difficult to fully digest this. We are facing a financial crisis that was created from this tendency, and now we might be in danger of reacting to this crisis with similar tendencies – mainly the inclination to retract and close when threatened.
We went out to Central Park with our usual stash of Smile Cards, cookies, good humor, and kindness ideas to give away. It was a wonderful experience as always, but we faced a slightly more resigned and distant populace. It’s hard to be ok when so much of our self-worth is wrapped up in things that can so easily and suddenly be taken away from us. We loose a sense of control and confidence, and the involuntary response is to become defensive, protective, closed-off. However, spiritual constriction on top of a financial constriction is the last thing we need. Indeed it becomes more difficult to offer up a generous and open spirit when faced with this kind of disorientation and loss. But when we choose to give things away because we can, it is quite empowering. And that’s one of the things we learned this weekend.
The highlight of the day was when a gentleman walking his dog passed by and asked about what we were doing. We explained Smile Cards to him and led him to our board of Kindness Ideas so that he could think about ways to use his new Smile Card. After watching him stand there for 15 minutes looking troubled, I went up to him and offered help in choosing an idea. And he said the thing that very few of us are honest enough to admit, “I am looking through these ideas and….to tell you the truth, I don’t want to do most of them. What does this say about me as a person?”. What it says is that he is a person that is genuinely contemplating what it means to be generous and observing the feelings it creates in him. He discovered what most of us have experienced - It’s a deceptively simple concept intellectually, but in practice it is not easy to be selflessly generous. We had a good twenty-minute talk about the economy, money, generosity, kindness, why the selfless part is important, why the anonymous part is important, etc. The conversation ended when I told him, “…Like most things we think are negative, money is not the enemy - it’s our relationship to it that can turn detrimental. It’s difficult to give away and share things because we attach so much of ourselves to the things that surround us. So when we think about giving them away, it’s like we are giving pieces of ourselves away. And that’s scary. But what you find out is that through giving, you actually get a part of yourself back. Don’t believe me. Try it.” So, he goes over to the board and finally picks an idea. I asked him if he would be ok with sharing the idea he finally decided on, and he holds it up - “Give away one of your possessions RIGHT NOW” - the most demanding of all the Kindness Ideas. I ask if he’s sure he’s ready for this, and his grin starts sheepish and turns determined, “I can do this, no problem. I WANT to do this.” Egged on by the rest of us, he whips out his loaded MetroCard and hands it to a passerby who just takes it without a thank you or a second look. “I didn’t know I had that in me. That felt good.”, he said and ran off. Now that’s clout. Much respect.
We’ve been hearing about bailout plans aimed at restoring confidence. But confidence in what? The economy? We are the economy, we are this country. What we are calling a financial crisis is every bit as much a social crisis. What is really needed is something that will bail us out of dampened spirits and restore our confidence in who we are and what we are capable of. One which allows us to reclaim pieces of ourselves and remember that our value as people comes from mindsets and intentions that cannot be bought off the street, taken away from us, or destroyed by market turbulence. Solutions that don’t require payback, but possibly a pay-it-forward. Don’t believe me? Try it.
You can find more pictures here. :)