“. . . charity’s golden ladder” (Maimonides).
IT WOULD BE A RARE PERSON WHO NEVER NEEDED TO CLIMB A LADDER THAT SOMEONE ELSE HAD PUT IN PLACE. As Bertolt Brecht put it, “Everyone needs help from everyone.” None of us is completely self-sufficient, and so it’s a very good thing that when our ascent toward the better things in life is more than we can manage, other people often provide the ladders we need. We should be grateful for that. But more important, we should always be on the lookout for opportunities to provide a ladder someone else may need.
Often, when we see a fellow human being desperately trying to get to a higher place but failing to do so, we’re content merely to feel sorry for them. But while pity has its place, a little help is worth more than any amount of pity. When our neighbor needs an assist that we can provide, if our compassion is real, it’ll show up in action.
When people find themselves frustrated, more often than not the problem is that they’ve lost the courage to keep climbing. That, in fact, is the basic meaning of “dis-courage-ment”: a loss of courage. At such times, the best ladder we can provide is not so much to help them as it is to help them help themselves. Benjamin Disraeli said, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” We never help people any more beneficially than when we “en-courage” them by helping them discover (or perhaps rediscover) the greatness of their own inner resources.
Do you and I willingly offer ourselves as ladders upon which others can climb? A certain amount of humility is needed to serve in this way. After all, a ladder never gets much credit for the success of any undertaking, does it? But then, credit is not really the main issue in life. The main issue is progress, and if by standing on our shoulders someone else can see farther and climb higher, that’s all to the good.
“What do we live life for if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” (George Eliot). When we’re measuring the heights to which we ourselves have ascended, we need to be careful in our measurement of success. Wherever we are, if we’ve gotten there by abusing, or even neglecting, other people, then we haven’t gotten very far.
“He climbs highest who helps another up” (Zig Ziglar).