Monday, December 31, 2012

Seeking comfort with Mr. Rogers

In the last two weeks, several people posted this quote to their social media profiles. It's from TV personality and children's advocate Fred Rogers:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world. quote

It's a sentiment that I have always taken comfort in when tragedy strikes. I'm sure that, as a Presbyterian minister, Mr. Rogers believed it was "God" that was spurning people into helping others. But I'm so glad he didn't say that in this quote, since Atheists like myself do the same after a horrific event: we look to see the people helping, or we jump in to help ourselves, and it gives us comfort. And we need comfort, just like anyone else - we're human. I tried to explain this in my last blog regarding The Atheist Response to Tragedy.

Why does seeing others providing help, and why does providing help ourselves to others, help us in a time of crisis? Because it grows, or restores, a belief in the capacity of humans to do good, to want to do good, something very much needed in the face of an inhumane act.

Every day, we do a hundred activities based on the assumed goodness of humanity: driving somewhere in a car and assuming that other people are going to drive safely, taking the bus and assuming other riders will intervene should anything dire happen, going to a doctor and assuming all staff will read charts correctly and listen as we speak, getting on a plane and assuming the pilot and flight attendants and mechanics will all be doing their jobs correctly, and on and on. Even the most diehard every man for himself person has to make these assumptions every day, over and over. The alternative is to build and stock a fortress, and never leave it, and live every day based on fear.

There is tremendous support happening right now to the many, many victims of mass shootings and natural disasters in the USA. Some areas are overwhelmed with support and offers of help. If you are looking for the opportunity to help, to feel some control over life, you might start in your own community: there are seniors that would love to know how to use cell phones or computers to connect with resources they need, games they would enjoy and people they love. There are parents of special needs kids that would love a sitter for a few hours so they could shop, go to a movie or sit in a coffee shop. There are kids that would love to go camping.

Here's how to find ways to do some good in your community - to provide comfort to others and, perhaps, to yourself:

Most Atheists don't believe in a soul - an immortal entity or essence that occupies your body and will continue after your body dies. So it would be disingenuous for me to say that helping others will restore your soul. But I can say that helping others will help you want to get out of bed every morning. It will help you build up a large storage of beautiful memories - and that can help you greatly when faced with tragedy or horrors created by humans or nature. It's worked for me - and Mr. Rogers. Maybe it can work for you too.

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