Monday, July 25, 2011

Are Random Acts of Kindness Really Random?

A fellow named Forrest Gump once pondered one of life's basic questions: 
"I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze. But I think maybe it's both. Maybe both is happening at the same time."

Is there a grand plan for each of us?  Are the events of our lives predetermined by a higher being?  Or, as Gump wondered, is life just one giant random walk, with the plot being made up as we go along?  It's a fascinating question. I am sure that you would not be surprised to learn that there are entire schools of thought devoted to this concept called synchronicity, first articulated by Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung in the 1920s. 
"Synchronicity is the occurrence of two events that are not linked causally, nor linked teleologically, yet are meaningfully related. Once, a client was describing a dream involving a scarab beetle when, at that very instant, a very similar beetle flew into the window. Often, people dream about something, like the death of a loved one, and find the next morning that their loved one did, in fact, die at about that time. Sometimes people pick up he phone to call a friend, only to find that their friend is already on the line. Most psychologists would call these things coincidences, or try to show how they are more likely to occur than we think. Jung believed they were indications of how we are connected, with our fellow humans and with nature in general, through the collective unconscious." 
                                                                                            – Dr. C. George Boeree

It sounds as though Dr. Boeree is describing what in "Star Wars" parlance is known as "The Force," doesn't it?  Simply put, synchronicity is the result of two seemingly unrelated events producing a meaningful consequence.  I go back and forth on the idea of synchronicity because I believe that those who claim that everything in life is predetermined are absolving themselves of the consequences of their actions.  If everything is predetermined, how can we be blamed for the mistakes we make?  However, believing that all life is chance would imply that one does not believe in God and I certainly don't want to do that. There is, after all, very little upside in disavowing a belief in a supreme being and lots and lots of potential downside.

Do things happen for a reason?  Ask my friend Angie Godfrey and she will tell you that they do.  Here's her story, as related in a Facebook post this morning:


There's more. 
So I told her I wanted to take her home and she let me. Her and her mother lived alone in an apartment behind 7-11. Her mom has a degree but lost her job almost a year ago to layoffs. She then found out she had a tumor in her foot and can't walk very well. She is still living in the apartment but they are getting evicted next month. She is still waiting on disability but with the issues now she may not get it for a few more months.
Angie, who has had her own struggles but is grateful for the help she once received, has put a human face on suffering that for many of us is an abstract concept.  You may not see it, but it's happening.  The teenage child of a college-educated parent is dumpster-diving for food in America?  How can we proclaim the greatness of this country when people like this routinely fall through society's cracks?  How can we send billions of dollars in aid to other countries each year yet ignore the suffering of our own citizens?  Certainly there are people in this country whose problems are of their own making, but there are also people like this woman and her daughter, beset by misfortune and caught in a vortex of suffering not of their own making and from which there seems to be little chance of escape.

Until Angie decided that she needed a V-8. 

Is it synchronicity that it was big-hearted Angie who saw this girl and not some other, less compassionate, person?  Is it synchronicity that I visited with Angie last weekend for the first time since we were 7th graders and that I have this blog and can use it to spread the word of Angie's good work? It would appear that these seemingly random occurrences have turned out to be "meaningfully related."

Synchronicity.

We are not hard-hearted but many of us do not know how to get involved or are distrustful of any big organization's efforts to effectively allocate our donated resources. We all know that government-administered programs are supremely wasteful and inefficient.  We do not necessarily want credit for our generosity but we do want to know that our good intentions are not being squandered. When we can get right at the problem, when the abstract concept of human suffering is crystallized for us as Angie has done here, we do get involved. Included in the 49 responses to Angie's post are offers of financial assistance, lodging, food, clothing and school supplies. Angie humanized the abstract and her friends have responded in overwhelming fashion. 

She is working hard to help this family.  She is organizing a car wash to raise funds for the rent on an apartment she has a lead on and she has talked to her boss about hiring this woman part time to do some accounting. She collected some money and went to get the power turned back on at the place where they currently live.  She is doing the heavy lifting. She is paying it forward.  Apparently, these people have nothing, not even a bottle of ketchup.  Their needs are immense.  

Her email address is agodfrey6@yahoo.com if you are interested in helping.  Synchronicity.  

8 comments:

  1. Seward,
    Thank you so much for sharing the story. I worked hard today to make sure this woman and her daughter got what every human deserves. I hope all of you will open your hearts and help someone in our own backyard. It amazes me that we have starving people here in the U.S.

    I just want to help her get a fresh start and I hope today I at least made a difference.

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  2. Angie, you are making a difference. If every one of us opened our hearts this way, there'd be a lot less suffering in this world. Thank you and thank you, Seward, for spreading the word.

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  3. Seward,

    I have read your blog the past few months and enjoyed many of your postings. Some are funny . . . some more serious; most all thoughtful. I feel like I identify with a lot of observations you have (though differ on some -- will post to the Reunion blog later as I reached a different conclusion -- more on that on a related page). However, to date, I have not been motivated enough to take the time necessary to post a worthy comment.

    However, when you bring out Carl Jung and synchronicity, I had to get busy. When I was in my early 20s, I read Carl Jung extensively. In part, my inspiration was my Dad who was way more interested than I was and I wanted to see what held his interest. I found Jung to be profound and very relevant for pursuing self-knowledge through his analytical construct and methodology, especially as it relates to dream analysis. I believe understanding oneself at a deep level is at the root of successful relationships with others -- and again, I believe that personal knowledge comes with understanding one's personal unconscious, the good, the bad and the ugly. Jung constantly challenged individuals to pursue not only a deeper understanding of themselves but also the life that each person navigates daily; not just on the conscious level of everyday activities but more at the unconscious level of individual motivations, biases, projections and thoughts.

    Which brings me back to synchronicity and the posted blog. I believe things do happen for a reason and there are all types of things we can learn if we stop to try to understand the meaning -- the problem is a lot of people write things off to chance as opposed to understanding (or trying to understand) the meaning behind everyday events. Why did Angie stop that day to help? What motivated her that day? What else is going on in her life that coincided with her approach when she stopped at the 7-Eleven? How will that girl's and her mother's life be changed by these events? How will Angie's life be changed? How about mine or yours? The answers to these questions or at least their contemplation is key.

    In one of his lectures, Jung differentiated between the Eastern and Western tendencies in philosophy. "The Eastern mind, when it looks at an ensemble of facts, accepts that ensemble as it is, but the Western mind divides it into entities, small quantities. It is like this: you are standing on the sea-shore and the waves wash up an old hat, an old box, a shoe, a dead fish, and there they lie on the shore. You say: "Chance . . .nonsense!" The Chinese mind asks: "The Chinese mind asks: "What does it mean that these things are together?"

    I watched Inception on a flight recently and Leonardo DiCaprio and his team entered multiple levels of dreams, shot projections and always listened for the "kick" to ensure they could wake up! (Jung's concepts were interspersed throughout.) There was a much deeper meaning to the movie other than just the shooting scenes but I realize that many people do not choose to go there.

    Great blog Seward. Got me off my Read-Only approach so far to your postings. What's the meaning there? Chance or synchronicity . . . . . .

    Geoff Allen
    geoffroallen@me.com

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  4. Geoff,

    Wonderful comment. I am flattered that I was able to shake you out of your malaise. I struggle sometimes to find something worthy of posting, but this was a no-brainer for me today since, like I said, I go back and forth on the meaning of life's supposedly random occurrences anyway. Angie's story is a perfect analogy. She is a recipient of past kindness and I am sure that factored into her decision to get involved. It's a powerful lesson for us all, I think.

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  5. Geoff,
    You just got me really thinking. I am a Psychology major and there are times when school, raising a three year old grandson, and life in general just gets overwhelming. This morning I woke up at 4 a.m. and did my homework. It was kind of awkward that I did this but I had alot on my mind for my week ahead and this one class is kicking my butt so I did it. I have been so worried about bills, my job, money, etc that I have been having some really bad heartburn and V-8 is always the answer (I know this makes no sense). So I went to 7-11 around 6 ish to get a V-8 and there she was climbing out of the dumpster. At the bottom was a pile of sandwiches. I didn't even think I just got out of the car and went to her. My money worries went out the window. I spent well over $200 today of money I do not have but didn't think twice about. While I have more money problems now, I am not worried. I know it will come back to me. I know it will come back to me.
    The feeling I got from this VERY proud woman was amazing. She doesn't smoke or drink or do drugs. She is unemployed with a degree in accounting. She is you, your neighbor, me, everyone of us. When I went into her house with no electricity, it was clean, she was at the table, she was so hurt and devestated. I held her hand and cried with her. I felt her shame. I felt her pain. She loves her daughter as I love mine and she did nothing to deserve this.
    My mom thinks I am gullable but I am the opposite. I have been dooped before and am careful and I know what I am doing is right. Sorry mom, it feels good and I made a difference today. Me and 47 of my now closest friends who have their own reasons for opening their hearts and wallets.
    Angie

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  6. For scientific evidence that not only our cells, but also our consciousness, are connected read a very interesting book called "The Biology of Belief" by a cellular biologist, named Bruce Lipton, who went to UVA and then did his scientific research at Stanford University. I write this now as I sit on a boat in the Galapagos Islands where Darwin crafted his theory of natural selection and the survival of the fittest. The "new" science is showing that it is not the "fittest" individuals who survive - and who can simply best adapt to their environments. But instead the "fittest" communities of cells and individuals - who have the best understanding of the needs of the community and the survival of the "collective" are the ones that ultimately have the best chance of survival. Those who are more consciously connected to others - and to other species on the earth - and work best to coexist will inherit the earth.

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  7. UPDATE: The family I told everyone about is doing much better thanks to alot of hard work and help from friends and people I do not even know. Monday Maryanne and her daughter Cheyenne were digging in the trash for thrown out 7-11 sandwiches. They had no electricity and no hope. They have to vacate their apartment on the 5th of August.
    As of today, they have power, they have a little bit of food (I have alot of people sending grocery cards though), and I have a friend who has an partment in the same school district, who is waiving the deposit and not charging rent for August. They can move in August 15th. This means they will be in a very nice shelter for about ten days unless my meeting with the landlord is successfull and she is allowed to stay in her apartment until the 15th. Now last night Ihad a long talk with the mom and although I understand she has a degree I told her she has to get a job somewhere. It may be horrible to flip burgers for 7.50 and hour but it's better than zero dollars.
    She has agreed and we worked on a resume for her and filled out applications for Subway, McDonalds, etc. The car wash for this weekend will be set for next weekend and I will update everyone on where it is. So many people have responded with school supplies, donations, food, and evven a few cool things for the daughter to do. My goal is to raise enough money so that her bills are paid for one month and she can get a job and be ahead of the game. Cheyenne WILL have all her school supplies and with my moms $150 Kohls donation, I am taking Ceyenne shopping for clothes. Please continue to pray and do what you can for these peopl My estimation is about $400 to raise for my goal. Hopefully the car wash will cut it in half. Thanks to everyone here that I haven't even met who have promised to help and have helped. Seward, you have some awesome friends. I won't post who is doing what as I feel some people would not want that but to those who have helped, God bless you!
    Angie Godfrey

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  8. UPDATE: The mother has a job and although it isn't her "ideal" job, she has been able to save her paychecks for her bills. I say save because there were so many of you who gave your hard earned money and helped this family out. Because of this, I was able to get her and her daughter into an apartment, pay her bills, and get her food, all paid until 9/15/2011. Thank you to everyone! Now there were a few who promised a few things and have not sent them. I knew she needed the money and groceries right then so I paid what people promised and took from my family to do this. So please, if you promised a gift card or a check, please please still send it as I am a single mom myself and really can't take the loss.

    All that said, we worked together to bring a woman and her daughter hope and a new start. Every Friday is movie night for Cheyenne (the child) myself, and my daughter. We make a pizza and rent a movie. This last week was Soul Surfer. If you get a chance. PLEASE SEE THIS MOVIE! Very moving. Cheyenee has new clothes, (thank you for the amazon card, you know who you are. Also thank you to my mother for the Kohls card), she has school supplies, and this girl has a smile as big as pudding face on her for the first time in months. To all who helped..you have NO idea what you have done to help these two people. Words can't express.

    Now on to my next project...we are cleaning the beach the week after ECSC. Anyone who lives at the beach who can donate 30 minutes of your time just for one day, let me know. Will Sessoms is behind us and we expect to save the taxpayers over $10,000. Lets do this!

    Angie Godfrey

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