By Rob Morse | SlowFacts
I listened to a bishop talk about our conscience. He has listened to a lot of confessions over the years. Now that he is bishop, he hears a lot of complaints. I listened to him with some sympathy. This is one of the things he said.
- 10 percent of us would never steal no matter how badly we needed help.
- 80 percent of us could talk themselves into stealing something under some circumstances.
- The last 10 percent would probably steal anything they can even if they don’t need it.
That seems overly pessimistic to me. I do accept his point that some of us are virtuous and some of us are not. Let me bring up a similar point that comes from my own experience.
- 10 percent of help other people without being asked.
- 80 percent of us will help others depending on the circumstances when asked to give.
- The last 10 percent won’t help others even if the need is great and the giving is easy.
We’re talking about the same population in both cases. Both perspectives are an accurate portrait of human character, even if the fractions might not match up. What is fascinating is how malleable we are in the middle. I notice how susceptible I am to persuasion.
Should we pick through the wreckage and take what we want after a storm destroyed an abandoned house? Should we load up the truck and go stand guard at a friend’s house that was damaged by a storm? I know those feelings. I’ve been tempted and I’ve been inspired.
There are a few things we know about human nature. It is easier to steal from an anonymous stranger than to take from someone you know. It is more compelling to help a friend than a stranger. It is easier to take..and to give.. when other people are doing it also. So what does that all mean for you today?
It means you are important. It means your decisions matter because other people will follow your example. We’ve all been there.. to lead others and also to be inspired by other people’s leadership. You’ve seen it in a million small gestures.
-We’re taking the kids and a few of their friends camping. Would you and your kids like to join us?
-I’m going to go visit uncle Ted because I heard he was sick. Do you want to come along?
-There is some flooding down river. I asked a few of the guys at church to come with me to see if anyone needs help. Why don’t you come along.
-That isn’t yours, now put it back.
Sometimes all it takes is a kind, quiet, word of encouragement. Then again, the guy sitting in front of his neighbors ruined house with a shotgun across his lap after a hurricane.. well, he doesn’t have to talk very loud to get his message across.
Most of the good things you do will go unnoticed. Those unseen virtues have their purpose. You exercised your conscience so it was stronger when you needed it. There is also the important time when you are the first one to do something good and it inspires others to join you. Equally important, the first person to stop doing something bad also inspires others to stop what they’re doing.
Your example is important. I think that is what the bishop was saying. I think that is why so many men and women listen to him.
If no one has told you today, then let me. Thank you for all you do.