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Pay it forward

Posted: December 1, 2011 10:54 a.m.
Updated: December 2, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Giving thanks. Thankfulness.  Gratitude. All words that often come to mind during this bountiful season of thanksgiving. Impeccable timing, wouldn’t you say? This time of giving thanks leads us right to the season of giving (gifts); the season of giving and receiving and more receiving for some. So, just as I am offering thanks for the gifts I have in my life -- family and friends, food and football -- among many, I catch a glimpse of several headlines reading “Black Friday shopper collapses while shopping and almost goes unnoticed as other shoppers walk over his body to hunt for bargain deals. Later dies.” And “Customer sprays fellow shoppers with pepper spray so she could snag a video game.” Now of course, I must believe this is not representative of the majority of smart shoppers out there looking for the best price. Most would agree our current economy makes that perfect deal just a little more perfect. However, something in the vision of frantic consumers storming the doors of their local mall, list in hand, spouse and kids in tow, hoping to secure the video gaming system bearing the words “lowest price,” doesn’t seem logical. I am perplexed by the commercial of a shopper adorned in red from head to toe timing herself wrapping gifts. Now, let me assure you, at some groundless moment in my life, I was one of those shoppers. No more. I should also make clear the fact my family actively participates in the sharing of gifts during the Christmas season. We are continually striving, however, to be more aware of the motives behind our gifts to family and friends. We remind ourselves and our children that giving is not limited to merely something wrapped. Giving comes in many forms.

Generosity and giving understand no limits. They can be defined as the “spirit of giving”; charitableness; kindness.  The human spirit has no borders. The human spirit is full of goodwill toward others. It is charitable and benevolent. This spirit is found in the philanthropist; the do-gooder; the humanitarian; the unsung hero. A humanitarian believes in an ethic of kindness that should be extended universally and impartially to all human beings. Humanitarians believe the sole obligation of humankind is the improvement of human welfare. No two are the same. They cannot be defined by their economic status; their race; their gender; their neighborhood; their religion. They do share the same conviction, that on a basic level, we are all connected by our humanity.  They truly believe when we help others, we are helping ourselves.

There are endless faces to humanitarians -- the famous; the unknown. They all encompass passion in their quest to make a difference. Nicholas Sparks, best-selling author, is better known as a benefactor and track coach. Within a few months of Sparks’ son joining the high school track team in the small rural city of New Bern, N.C., the novelist had donated nearly $900,000 and signed on as a volunteer coach. Sparks wants to ensure his athletes, most from low-income and at-risk families, no longer face certain obstacles in their lives.  He coaches to bring these kids opportunities and give them the chance to go on to college. 

Paul Newman, one of Hollywood’s all-time leading men, enjoyed a long and successful acting career, but wanted more. In 1982, Newman cofounded Newman’s Own food products, whose profits have been used to donate over $250 million to charities. At just 29 years of age, Millard Fuller walked away from his life as a successful businessman to devote himself to the poor by starting Habitat for Humanity. More than a million people live in the over 300,000 homes built by Habitat in more than 100 countries. Fuller once said, “we know one thing: if we give people a good place to live, they’ve got a better chance.” Princess Haya of Dubai has vowed to fight hunger worldwide by delivering food assistance to 90 million people in 70 countries. As an ambassador to the World Food Program, Princess Haya, with the good fortune she has been given, literally starts her day by reminding herself of her passion -- that she will find a way to solve world hunger.  

Then there are the quiet, unassuming heroes of humanitarianism whose generosity rarely makes the news. It is the Marine who has raised over $100,000 for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation to provide financial assistance to wounded soldiers and their families. And he’s doing this all with a leg he may have amputated one day. It is the school superintendent who is giving back his salary over the next three years to ensure his pet projects survive. This would come to $800,000. His move was low-key, his manner unassuming. A life-long educator who walks with a limp due to his childhood contraction of polio, he said, “My goal has never been to have things, but to give back”.

Success in our lives can be measured by fulfilling a basic human need to help others. It is measured not by what we can get, but ultimately by what we can give.

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