One morning, I watched video feed of a desperate dolphin thrashing and trying to escape the nets of Japanese fishermen who planned to kill her to sell her to an aquarium; her nearby family trying desperately to save her, in a panic. It filled me with sorrow and rage. I wanted to put the Japanese fishermen in some horrible aquarium tank and leave them there forever. I wanted to cut the nets away from the poor dolphin. But I couldn’t do any of those things. I could just watch helplessly over a video feed an ocean away. The rage and feeling of helplessness carried with me throughout the day. I looked at the people around me and wondered if they cared; if they could just as easily slaughter an intelligent, sentient being in front of her family. It impacted how I interacted with those around me throughout that day and into the next. Just about every morning, I read another story of some terrible thing our so-called president is doing – from sexually assaulting women to making racist comments to enabling the destruction of the environment to provoking potential nuclear war – and I feel terrible and helpless, overwhelmed and angry.
The negativity is catching.
Recently, I was at an event with a friend some of you may know - Alex Ong - and a group of his friends who I had never met before. They, of course, asked how I knew Alex and I asked them how they’d first met him. The first friend of his said, “Oh, I met him because we both volunteered for the Red Cross after the hurricane down south. We drove there together and volunteered there, aiding the disaster victims.” I was impressed.
Later, I asked Alex how that came about. My first perception of him is as a very sophisticated, dapper guy in the finance area who is a really good person and also a very busy person and, limited mind that I have, I didn’t immediately visualize him working in warehouses distributing disaster supplies or driving large trucks in a hurricane ravaged city for mobile feeding. Yet, that is what he did.
He explained he read a newspaper story (I had read it, too; I think most of us have) about a mother who drowned in the floodwaters, but her baby lived, clinging to the mother’s floating body. When I read that story, I thought, “How sad. How tragic.” And I went to work and to the gym and made my dinner like usual. When Alex saw the story, he thought, “How sad. How tragic. I HAVE TO HELP.” And he called the Red Cross and volunteered and went to help.
After listening to his story, I was inspired. That’s actually a petty small word to describe how I felt about his kindness, compassion and selflessness.
I mentioned his courage and kindness to a mutual friend and she was unsurprised and added that, in addition, Alex had been the first male to ever volunteer at the shelter she worked at providing assistance to victims of domestic violence and abuse.
He does all these good deeds as a matter of course. This is how he lives his life. He doesn’t live tweet every moment and ask for recognition for all his good works. He simply does them.
I don’t have the funds to go to Japan and try to help the dolphin in the net but, as Helen Keller said, “I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” I can share the story of the dolphin. I can boycott aquariums and take the pledge not to support organizations that profit from the abuse of animals. And I can help people in my own city. A few days after hearing Alex’s story, I contacted the Red Cross to see how I, too, could help.
Alex’s kindness was catching!
Another friend, who I went to school with, vanished for three days. When he showed up after his unexplained absence, acting as though nothing had happened, I demanded to know where he had gone and whether he was alright. He assured me he was fine and, at my insistence, reluctantly divulged that he had received a newsletter from his college fraternity featuring a photo of the frat house that showed a Confederate flag displayed over the door. My friend, who is white, was so upset by the photo, he booked a plane ticket that very day, marched into his fraternity and personally sat down with the brothers who were in charge of the house to tell them he could not abide by that flag hanging on the fraternity he loved and guess what? He convinced them to take it down, apologize and promise not to put it up again. This didn’t happen with fanfare or media. It happened quietly, with a group of young men sitting privately in a room in a fraternity house. The flag came down. My friend booked another plane ticket and went home. THAT was why he’d been gone for three days. I was flabbergasted. I asked why he didn’t tell anyone. What if his objections had not been kindly met? What if he’d been attacked? My friend was nonplussed. He just said, “I know that house. I was a brother there. I know I can handle myself. I didn’t want to tell people what I was doing or where I was going and make a big deal of it. I just wanted to make the brothers understand what that flag really means and I wanted them to take it down; that’s all.” And he quietly went back to work. He didn’t ask for accolades or pats on the back. He did what was right because it was right and asked for nothing in return.
I share these two stories because I think it’s really important that we don’t allow the tidal wave of negative news to so overwhelm us that we become unmoving and uncaring. We all CAN do something to help in some way, big or small, and it all matters. Let my friends inspire you, too, and get up and do whatever it is that you can do.
Hey...will you send an e-letter to Prime Minister Abe to stop the dolphin slaughter while you're at it? ;)