“Knowing sorrow well, I learn the way to succor the distressed” (Virgil).
FROM TIME TO TIME, ALL OF US NEED TO RECEIVE AID AND ALSO TO GIVE IT. At any given moment we may need to be doing one more than the other, but before our lives are over, we will have had to do both: receive aid and give aid. And learning to think rightly about the subject of aid is one of life’s great challenges.
It is an interesting fact that the things that best equip us to give aid are often those that are painful to experience. None of us wants to suffer any more than necessary, but there is no denying that suffering puts us in a position to help others who are suffering. As Virgil put it, “Knowing sorrow well, I learn the way to succor the distressed.” If we could see the long-term benefits of difficulty and see how it makes helpers of us, we would accept our sufferings with a greater strength.
Most normal people have the urge to help others, but the problem is we don’t act on the urge as consistently as we should. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the man who rendered help to the injured traveler might have had no more of a generous attitude than the other two men. But unlike them, he acted on the impulse to give aid. As the saying goes, “a little help is worth a great deal of pity.”
In the Book of Genesis, there is the story of Joseph and his brothers who sold him into slavery. Later, when events had sharpened their conscience considerably, they made this statement: “Yes, now we are suffering the consequences of what we did to our brother; we saw the great trouble he was in when he begged for help, but we would not listen.” Truly, there is no regret in life worse than looking back and knowing that you did not help someone who was pleading for it.
Unfortunately, it is often pride that hinders our urge to give aid and to receive it. If we’re honest, we have to admit there are limits on whom we would aid and whom we would want to receive aid from. But shouldn’t aid be unprejudiced? Sometimes the greatest benefit of aid comes from helping someone outside our comfort zone — and having the humility to receive aid from the last person on earth we would want to be helped by is humility indeed. So since the need for aid is universal, let’s look at it that way.
“Everyone needs help from everyone” (Bertolt Brecht).