It’s a proud moment for us here at Global Village Storytelling, as we share our first global story from the pen of Dr Brian Stork.
Dr Stork is a urologist from Muskegon, Michigan, USA. He is also a husband, father, uncle, dog lover, beekeeper, and a wise and empathetic storyteller.
While the story published below will have particular resonance for an American audience still reeling from a divisive election, its core values of community, compassion, and citizenship are truly global.
America – When We Step Up, We Discover Our True Selves
A Very Special Dinner
Recently, my family and I were invited to a very special dinner. It was a dinner put on by the board of a local nonprofit, Step Up, as a thank you to their volunteers. Food for the meal was donated anonymously and the meal was prepared and served entirely by the board.
Step Up is a organization in Muskegon, Michigan that helps young women as they transition out of foster care and into the adult world. It was started when a handful of concerned citizens, many from our local medical community, saw a need and responded with kindness and love.
Children in foster care face many unique challenges. These challenges only multiply and intensify as they try to become adults. Step Up provides housing, safety, mentoring and job possibilities for these young women. Its goal is to help these women achieve their full potential and avoid becoming statistics.
The dinner we shared together, however, was more than just a meal. It was a celebration of how people can come together, under the right leadership, and not only change and build community, but also change themselves.
Forming a Community
Throughout the evening, we heard story after story of how the right person with just the right skills would come along at just the right time to help renovate the Step Up house.
In the process, a new community started to form. Churches that had never previously worked together started working together. Persons of different colors who normally wouldn’t have a reason to interact started to interact.
The volunteers who donated their time and efforts to help their community, in the process, created a new community. We came together to become better than our individual selves.
It was a moment, as a father, that I was grateful my children could see.
Good Citizens Step Up
In America, we are trying to heal from an election cycle filled with racism, hatred and negativity. Participating in Step Up has reminded me what is really great about America. It’s the way in which the good citizens of our country continue and will always continue to Step Up and take care of those less fortunate than ourselves.
It’s only in this process that we discover who we are and what community is all about. I’m thankful my children had an opportunity to witness this caring and community in action. It strengthens my resolve, and gives me hope for the future of our country at a time when hope is seemingly hard to come by.
When the American writer George Saunders delivered a convocation speech at Syracuse University for the class of 2013, he touched on the on the deep need for kindness in our lives. On this, World Kindness Day, it seems apt to reproduce part of it here today.
So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.
Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.
Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?
Those who were kindest to you, I bet.
It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than:
Try to be kinder.
Now, the million-dollar question: What’s our problem? Why aren’t we kinder?
Here’s what I think:
Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).
Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.
So, the second million-dollar question: How might we DO this? How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?
Well, yes, good question.
Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left.
So let me just say this. There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter. Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition – recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.
Because kindness, it turns out, is hard – it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include…well,everything.
One thing in our favor: some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age. It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish – how illogical, really. We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality. We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be. We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now). Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. I think this is true. The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”
So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.
Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.