Participating with Your Neighbor


The third question I should answer “yes” to on my deathbed (yes, you should read this first) is “Did you Participate?”

This is a tough one for me to nail down.  Is it about giving?  Yes.  Is it about working? Yes.  Doing your best?  Sure.  I suppose the question could be “Did you share your life with others?”  However, that’s not really it either, as sharing implies only giving.

Did you provide your time in exchange for what you took.   There’s a song by the folk group, The Kingston Trio, called “Desert Pete.”  I think it captures what I am trying to get at.  Here’s the key line:

“You’ve got to prime the pump, you must have faith and believe.
You’ve got to give of yourself ‘fore you’re worthy to receive
Drink all the water you can hold, wash your face, cool your feet
But leave the bottle full for others, thank you kindly, Desert Pete”

You have to prime the pump...participate!

You have to prime the pump…participate!

Maybe it is better to describe what would cause me to answer “no” to the question, did you participate?  Certainly if I lived a life of crime, deceit, and murder that would be an instance where I took more than I gave, but that is an extreme case.  What if I never stopped to help someone fix a flat tire, or quickened my pace as I noticed a teenager harassing a homeless man?  I can’t help everybody, but what if that were my modus operandi for my life?  What if ignoring those who need help was my default position?  What if my life attitude toward work was “how little can I get away with, and how much will they pay me?”  Any of these could make my answer “no.”  If I lived a life where all I ever did was say “help me” without paying it forward, or returning in kind, then that would be a “no” as well.

There are humans on this Earth who have limited capabilities, who need more than they can give.  There are those with special needs, Down’s Syndrome, and severe mental disabilities.  There are quadriplegics, those who are crippled from the neck down, blind, deaf, etc.  These people have hurdles both high and low to overcome, and many of them still give more than they receive.  There are also those with more subtle limitations, like walking with a cane, lower IQs, pain in their body, and many of these folks “participate.”  Most of them participate as best they can.

Many have eyes, but can they see? (photo: Adrian van Leen

Many have eyes, but can they see? (photo: Adrian van Leen

At present, I have none of these limitations.  When asked, did I participate, I can’t answer, “I would have, but…”

To truly have lived your life, you must have done it interacting with your fellow man, doing your part, and lending your talent in exchange with others.  You’ve lived the philosophical life, if you set out to give at least as much as you took before you die.  It would be even better if you’ve given more by the end…”leave the bottle full for others.”

Most of all, don’t sit on the sidelines.  Get in the game…participate!  Like I said before, this is not for everybody.  Some can be contemplatives with very few interactions.  Not me, I must live a life of engagement with my neighbor.  I do think we need to be thoughtful, and examine our actions.  We do need to meditate and be mindful of ourselves, improve ourselves through our philosophy and meditation, but personally this is preparation for my participation.


(Feature photo by Miriam Wickett

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