Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 3.12.09

Pass It Along
The exponential power of goodness in hard times
By Michael Blakeslee

I’m one of the poor. I’ve heard economists and politicians who live in million dollar homes and drive $80,000 Mercedes tell me the economy is bad. It makes me sad to see them struggling. I wonder what they would say if they pulled off their Armani suits, threw on a greasy pair of jeans and a stained pullover and hung out with the street characters of Eugene for a day or two. Would they have any compassion?

Recently I saw one of Eugene’s street characters riding his bike downtown on Broadway where the road feels like a canyon between tall buildings. His shouts echoed from the glass and concrete while he rode. “Don’t kill yourselves over money. Don’t kill yourselves because of hard times,” he yelled. Some people smirked. They saw him as a lunatic. I saw him as a prophet on a bike.

Unemployment in Oregon is officially around 10 percent. The real figure is probably higher. Many who are working are scrambling just to tread water until a lifeboat shows up.

Tensions are rising. There was a minor uproar at one of the food banks recently. It was caused by the selfishness of two individuals. It delayed the food handout much more than if either side had just shown a little graciousness and consideration for their brothers and sisters that were in the room with them. Some of the volunteers were affected by the negativity, as were many of the people that were waiting for their food.

Negativism and positivism are both contagious. In this situation, I watched two people’s greed and negativity spread to many. What did those waiting in the room do with the negativity? Some never took it on, which is ideal, but sometimes unattainable. Others diffused it quickly and began spreading the love to those around them. Then still others took that negativity out of the food bank with them. Perhaps they grimaced at those they walked past on their way home, grumbled at their neighbors, or slapped their kids. Then others picked up that second hand negativity and passed it on to third, fourth or fifth hand sufferers. The bad karma of a moment of selfishness adds up quickly.

However, the effects from moments of kindness add up quickly, too. I think back to the kindness that some have offered me. It usually inspired me to pass it on many times over. Money given in the right place helps and is needed, but just as important is a kind look or a kind word. These things can spread like wildfire. 

Give an apple, give a can of soup or give a pair of warm socks. If you’re not comfortable with that, listen to yourselves and give in other ways. Stick unneeded items on the curbside for those who do need them. If you see something on the curb and don’t need it, don’t take it. Barter with someone who needs something and doesn’t have cash. Be kind to a child. Say hello to a senior. If your kindness is rebuffed, don’t take on the negativity; just try your gift on someone else. The goodness will find its way out somehow and so will its blessing.

When we are out on our errands of life, take a moment to slow down and treat someone with respect. We may not only affect someone’s moment, we may affect their entire day or more. And along with that, everyone they affect positively through their day. And so on, to the second hand, third, forth and fifth hand generation of those that receive it. It’s called the exponential power of goodness. 

The beautiful thing is that while we are caring for our community we may lessen our self-absorption, and we may forget the anguish of being unable to afford the new Mercedes or iPod. We may even become happy — that thing which we have searched for so desperately with our dollars.

There is no easy answer as to how one should offer goodness to our community. The answer does not come through clinical studies, statistical analysis or political restructuring. The answer comes by awareness of each human situation we encounter, by responsibly making decisions according to the needs for each situation we face, and by listening to ourselves.

We may look to the national and international economic and political bodies to be our lifeboats in hard times, but the answer really lies within each of us to help our brothers and sisters when we see a need, whether financial or personal. If we create a giant wave of exponential goodness, these hard times might be filled with bliss. In the meantime, don’t kill yourself over money. It’s only money. They can’t kick you off the planet for not having any.


Michael Blakeslee lives in Eugene and can be reached  by email.