Friday, September 5, 2008

The Virtue Of Asking

In our culture, and perhaps all cultures, we are encouraged to give. Give time, give money, give answers (when you have them). Something that is less encouraged--but just as valuable--is to ask for help when it is needed. Meister Eckhart said the following in a sermon*:

“God’s divinity comes of my humility, and this may be demonstrated as follows. It is God’s peculiar property to give; but he cannot give unless something is prepared to receive his gifts. If, then, I prepare my humility to receive what he gives, by my humility I make God a giver. Since it is his nature to give, I am merely giving God what is already his own. It is like a rich man who wants to be a giver but must first find a taker, since without a taker he cannot be a giver. Similarly, if God is to be a giver, he must first find a taker, but no one may be a taker of God’s gifts except by his humility. Therefore, if God is to exercise his divine property by his gifts, he well may need my humility; for apart from humility he can give me nothing--without it I am not prepared to receive his gift. That is why it is true that by humility I give divinity to God.”

Whether or not you believe in God is besides the point. The point is, there could be no giver without a receiver. A person who receives help should never be viewed as a 'less than' in anyone's eyes.

We always hear about the great philanthropists, as we should. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, Bono: all admirable people. It doesn’t matter how much of it they do for ego. They do it. If only there were someone advocating a morality flat-tax that would require every person to do an amount of good in the world equal to that of the aforementioned--within the context of their own time and resources--we’d see a lot of good change, no doubt. So we hear about the great philanthropists, but we rarely hear of the bravery of those who would ask for--or be willing to receive--the aid offered by those admirable givers.

In America, there are many people who advocate the ‘pull yourself up by your boot straps’ philosophy. There are also a lot of people who feel entitled to some kind of aid from some larger power. We’re all probably in one of these camps or the other at various times.

Unfortunately, both of these camps are wrong.No one owes anyone anything, and not everyone has boot straps to pull themselves up by. It is an extremely gallant and noble act to donate your own time and resources to those who are struggling. People who do this deserve our admiration. It’s also a profound act of bravery and humility to ask from the root of your own poverty for assistance. I admire a person who can seek to change their own situation--be it emotional, economic, psychological, etc.--by reaching out for help.

Of course, no outreached hand can save you if you aren’t willing to do a little work yourself. But to admit that there is a problem that you either don’t have an answer for, or don’t have the resources to answer, is a step that deserves recognition. There is no giver without a receiver, and those who give should be grateful that they were able to be of help.

* Taken from Raymond B. Blakney‘s ‘Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation, Harper and Row, 1941

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