I was riding on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) yesterday. It was early afternoon but all the seats were taken. I noticed a young mother seated, carrying a sleeping child. She looked tired and I was glad she had found a seat. Somewhere along the journey she pointed at me. I thought I had left my backpack unzipped. Has happened before. No, that wasn’t it. Then I realised that she was pointing to a seat behind me. Someone had vacated a seat and she wanted me to know that I could sit down. Grey hair has its privileges. I mouthed my thanks and sat down. And pondered afresh on the power of kindness. The mother obviously had burdens of her own. Yet she was looking out for others. I didn’t have a chance to thank her. The train was crowded and my stop came up soon after. I prayed a quiet blessing for her and took comfort that kindness is its own reward. Note the following articles from the September/October 2013 issue of the Scientific American Mind.
An article by Daisy Yuhas, “Kind Hearts Are Healthier”, noted that doing good for others results in better physical health.
Psychologists at the University of British Columbia asked 106 high school students to take part in a volunteering study. Half of the students spent an hour every week for 10 weeks helping elementary students with homework, sports or club activities. The other half of the students did not participate in volunteer work.
. . . after the 10-week period, the researchers found that students who volunteered had lower levels of cholesterol and inflammation after the study. Those who did not volunteer showed no such improvements. (8)
And in “Generosity Is Its Own Reward”, Marina Krakovsky reports:
. . . participants in Canada and South Africa, the latter a nation with much lower per capita GDP, were randomly assigned to buy a goody bag either for themselves or for a sick child in a local hospital; in both countries, those who had spent the money on the anonymous child reported feeling happier than those who had spent money on themselves. (9)
A long article about self-esteem, “Letting Go Of Self-Esteem” by Jennifer Crocker and Jessica J. Carnevale, concludes that healthy self-esteem comes when we stop being obsessed with ourselves and start having compassion on others (27–33).
I am sure evolutionary psychologists will have their theories as to why we are hotwired to care for each other. It may be simpler to believe that human beings were created to love and be loved. Last Sunday I preached to my church community and challenged us to give ourselves in sacrificial service to a world broken by sin. I ended my sermon by saying that I would not apologise for doing so because when we serve others we are blessed. Indeed, Jesus specifically told us it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Here is the actual verse. Paul writes:
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (NIV)
And here are Darrel L. Bock’s comments on the verse:
Paul is saying that blessing, even happiness, come from giving. Using the term “must” . . ., Paul raises a moral obligation. It is a moral imperative to help the weak and be generous to them . . . (Acts, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007, 632.)
So, while we may reap physical and emotional benefits when we help others, followers of Jesus Christ do so because that is the nature of the Christ whose Spirit indwells us. We do so because we follow a Lord who gave Himself for others and expects us to do the same.
I see a paradox here. If there is so much to be gained from helping others, why are so few doing it? I am not sure what the answer is. I suspect that sin has a lot to do with it. But I am glad to note that kindness is catching. The same issue of the Scientific American Mind also noted that “Altruism inspires more altruism” (9). Followers of Jesus have every reason to be kind. And no excuses for not being so.