Namaste or Deciding to Play the Optimistic ‘Fool’


“The man who looks at life with the eyes of God will be finding some worth in even the worst people and some goodness everywhere.”- Unknown

The following scenario came up in my life recently; as I am sure it has at one point or another for you.

The other day I was on a walk on the Seawall with a companion. During our walk, a somewhat strung-out homeless man asked me for money to buy food. We both declined, but after walking away a few feet, I reached into my bag to give him a sealed package of peanut butter crackers.

Nothing too interesting or out of the ordinary.

Although I never give money, my normal reaction in the daytime, in public, or to those who seem harmless is to give away any food I have on me.

Where the story begins to vary is in the responses from my travel companion, bystanders, and even the recipient.

As I turned my back to walk away, my companion began cursing at and berating the man.

Why?

The man had thrown my gift, rather ungratefully, off of the Seawall- receiving scorn from my companion and other passers-by on the sidewalk.

This was a bit of a slap in the face for me, as I usually receive some sort of thanks for my help. But I found the reaction of my companion even more troubling than that of the homeless man.

While I have grown accustomed to receiving occasional lectures on the foolishness of charity; the reaction of my companion was an eye-opener, in the opposite sense than what they had intended.

 As we were walking away, my companion began to offer words of consolation- telling me I had done the right thing and not to worry about the man, because he was worthless.

Although the situation itself was disappointing, the words meaning to bring comfort began to upset me even more.

My companion began to lecture me about con-artists and what real homeless people look like, causing me to defend my actions.

Yes, I would continue to give food to those who ask for money. And, no, it has never ended, as far as I know, with the recipient throwing it away.

Before my companion ended their lecture, they brought up that many, ‘probably 90%’, of those people that I ‘help’ probably throw it away as well, only wanting to seem grateful-  to inspire more people to give to them. It was also pointed out that I am ‘foolish’ to continue ‘wasting my time on worthless people’.

Although it saddened me to doubt the worth of my actions, it was even sadder to think that someone could be so pessimistic about a fellow human being.

I polled a few friends since the incident, and it seems this is a common reaction among companions and bystanders alike.

This got me wondering…

How many of us have been through this situation?

How many of us choose to be ‘realists’ and how many of us choose to be ‘fools’?

And finally, and probably most importantly, how many situations do the ‘realists’ choose to look the other way, for fear of being ‘foolish’?

I’ve seen it among apathetic youth and the disillusioned seniors; atheists and churchgoing folk alike; and even those in the professions of service- doctors, nurses, and teachers.

There is a somewhat cliché story that I have come across several times throughout my life- many refer to it as The Starfish Story. Although it is a bit overly simplified and idealistic, it has been a source of inspiration to me on more than a handful of similar ‘foolish’ situations.

The Starfish Story – adapted from the Star Thrower (1969) by Loren C. Eiseley

An old man had a habit of early morning walks on the beach. One day, after a storm, he saw a human figure in the distance moving like a dancer. As he came closer he saw that it was a young woman and she was not dancing but was reaching down to the sand, picking up a starfish and very gently throwing them into the ocean.
“Young lady,” he asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”
“The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I do not throw them in they will die.”
“But young lady, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You cannot possibly make a difference.”
The young woman listened politely, paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves,
saying, “It made a difference for that one.”
The old man looked at the young woman inquisitively and thought about what she had done. Inspired, he joined her in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved

So what would happen if we decided to give every person a fighting chance?

What if we all decided to ‘play the fool’; to believe that everything in our world has some value and some purpose; and that every action we take can be for the betterment of the world?

On that note, I would like to leave you with some final words to consider.

As someone who frequently practices yoga, I have been introduced to several Sanskrit words- all beautiful in their own way, with rough English translations. My favorite word is spoken with a bow from our yogi with a sense of gratitude and lightness at the end of every yoga session- in which it is returned, always, with even more gratitude and love and light.

I believe it is one of the most beautiful gestures I have ever come across- Namaste.

“The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra. The gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another. “Nama” means bow, “as” means I, and “te” means you. Therefore, Namaste literally means “bow me you” or “I bow to you.””- Aadil Palkhivala, The Meaning of Namaste, http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/822

So I say to you, whomever you are, Namaste.

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