Gifts that "defy reciprocation"

Scott Adams, the famous creator of the Dilbert comic strip and wise critic of management, had a dream of being a cartoonist. In a blog post, he writes about rejections from publishers he wrote to (clearly, the world seemed oblivious to his talents) and writing to the host of a TV show (Jack Cassady) asking for advice. Jack, surprisingly, wrote back to the aspiring, struggling cartoonist - - not once but twice!

Scott writes — “I feel certain that I wouldn’t have tried cartooning again if Jack hadn’t sent the….letter. With a kind word and a postage stamp, he started a chain of events that reaches all the way to you right now. As Dilbert became more successful I came to appreciate the enormity of Jack’s simple act of kindness. I did eventually thank him, but could never shake the feeling that I had been given a gift which defied reciprocation. Somehow, “thanks” didn’t seem to be enough. ….there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”

A few days ago, a voice from the past messaged me, and told me that though she does not communicate much with me, i had done something in class years ago that had changed her life — a change that led her to the rich life she leads today. i remember her fondly but i had no idea that my words & action had influenced her so much. 

Two things struck me —  

a) When i was teaching in her class years ago, i had no idea i was making an impact on people. i was not trying to — i was just teaching a subject. Our words and actions have far-reaching ripples . In the Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta where we study the Buddha’s guidance to Rahula (his son), we find instructions on right action, right speech, and right thought”Whenever you want to do a bodily action, you should reflect on it....Whenever you want to perform a verbal act, you should reflect on it....Whenever you want to do a mental action, you should reflect on it.”

We influence people by what we say and do. And the effect of the influence is often not immediately visible  The Buddha’s statements here are not a set of steps to a metaphysical supernatural world — rather, it is a parent advising a child that we would do well to take great care in our thinking, speaking, and doing 

(b) The second thing that struck me is this — Scott Adams writes that he ”had been given a gift which defied reciprocation.” As i ended the conversation with the young lady, i began to wonder at how the world runs owing to people who offer such gifts to others — gifts that defy reciprocation.  i have received many many such gifts — far more than i deserve. This young lady gave me such a gift years ago by showing up to my class, and later, asking for some tutorials — with faith that i could teach her.  Faith (often unexpressed in words) is one of the greatest gifts we can offer to another — a gift that defies reciprocation 

More Love please....

i get newsfeeds everyday from an independent journalist in the frontlines of war around the world. The photographs he sends convey unspeakable depravity and cruelty — a daily reminder that despite all the trappings of civilisation that we cloak ourselves with, bestiality continues to be a trait our species demonstrates.

Father Gregory Boyle who founded (and runs) the largest rehabilitation program for young people (who stray into gangs and violence owing to the circumstances they grow up in) points out in his 2018 Commencement talk at Pepperdine University that “only the soul that ventilates the world with tenderness has any chance of changing the world.” 

It may sound impractical but i see a great need to back Peace Pilgrim’s message to us in Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words ”The medicine this sick world needs so badly is love.”

We have all the science and technology needed to make a difference — to not war, to help people make fulfilling lives for themselves, and to live well. Hunger, for example, as many eminent thinkers have pointed out, is not a problem of scarcity but of politics. So is the case with much of the ills we face. 

i am not preaching a way of life but it seems to me that we need to show more love, show more kindness, and walk our high-sounding talk a lot more.