Originally posted on 09-07-07:
It would take a very long time to unravel the entire sequence of my thoughts this morning, and perhaps not particularly rewarding to you, but the part I want to convey began with feelings of compassion for young people growing up in this amazingly complex modern world. What with TV, the internet, and movies, they very quickly find out that there’s a lot more to the world than the little family they began life in. Indeed, they may never have felt at home even in their nuclear nest—I certainly had feelings of alienation at an early age.
Some may find peer groups they can belong to based on common interests in particular kinds of sports, music, video games, etc.—there are myriad interest groups out there—but some may find none that fit. Or they may find themselves on the bottom rung of their group, unappreciated. Or they may look up one day and see that they’re a big fish in this little pond, but what about all those other ponds out there in which they are nothing? The potential for alienation seems higher than it was in my small world, and even if that is not actually the case, there are certainly more people than there were 50 years ago, so the population of alienated kids has to be greater, too.
Perhaps my estimation of the extent of alienated youth is skewed by my own experiences, but for whatever reason, I felt compassion and wondered what I might do to help. Many words of advice came to mind: how to be liked, how to be successful, how to put the human condition in perspective, etc., etc., but in the end, we can’t all be rich, popular, enlightened rock stars. What do you tell the average kid with few obvious options?
I could tell them all to be like me—I’m not rich, or popular, or famous, but I’m happy—but my particular solution might not work for everyone, and I was looking for something that would be universally applicable. What I ended up with is an old saw from AA: Do something nice and don’t tell anyone.
OK, it sounds pretty sappy, but the odd thing is that it seems to work, and not telling anyone is key. If someone knows we did something nice, either for them or the world in general, they are likely either to expect more or to suspect our motives. In either case, they may not show any appreciation, and if that was our motive, we will be disappointed. It is also possible that the effort will backfire in our own minds if someone knows about it, because we may suspect our own motives, and feel cheap for trying to aggrandize ourselves.
If no one knows but me, then my conscience is clear of selfish motives, except for the one of wanting to do something to make me feel good about myself, and that one I can live with.
Start small: pick up some litter when no one is looking and put it in the trash. From there, the sky’s the limit.