Help Others

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In this time of national crisis, many call for unity, calm and understanding. Perhaps we should go beyond attitudes and hear the call to action. I believe we must move to help others.

Admittedly, many of us feel threatened by the horrible events of recent days. Turning within is natural. We evaluate our own resources and look to those like ourselves in self-defense. Appeals to national unity offset this inwardness. But our nation has splintered into separate identities by race, class, ethnicity, gender, ideology.

Helping others breaks through those walls. We can start simply, just by helping anyone other than our self: a sibling, a child, a classmate, a partner and then perhaps a neighbor, an employee, a customer. Eventually we may help those unlike ourselves, those of different loyalties, those we might even perceive as enemies. Why do that? The answer is one we've often heard in different ways. Parables and folktales from many different cultures teach it: the Good Samaritan, Androcles and the Lion. We all know the slogans, "Love thy neighbor," "Pay it forward," "Be the change you wish to see."

But helping others adds a twist that may encourage even more cooperation. It begins a chain reaction. It teaches by example. Who is more likely to help others, one who has received help or one who is excluded? The more people help others, the more people help others. Help for others reproduces itself exponentially. This program is not specific to any group: it is universally applicable. The more it is tested, the more it will work.

If you don't believe me, try it.


With a Perspective, I'm Alan Bernstein.

Alan Bernstein is a retired professor of history who lives in Oakland.