Sunday, August 1, 2010

Making a Difference or Just Pleasing Yourself

I've been disrupted this evening by two quotes. The first, by Leo Rosten, is:

"The purpose of life is not to be happy - but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you have lived at all."

I'll get to the second one a little later in this post.

As with many pearls of wisdom, we read them, absorb them and then move on with our busy lives.

But this time, I happened across these two quotes while looking into the eyes of a young child in an online campaign designed to raise funds for children in developing nations. The child was sickly and starving - someone who lived in a world without hope, without dreams... wondering if anyone out there cared at all.

Wondering if this is all there is.

And when this sequence of events coalesced at the same moment this evening, it made me stop and think "How much do we REALLY do for others"?

Yes, we talk a lot about doing the right things and many of us do the token, obligatory acts of giving that don’t require a lot of effort and then we clap ourselves on the shoulder, congratulate ourselves regarding our benevolence and we move on with our lives.

How much do we REALLY think of people like this child?

I recently went through a pretty serious house-cleaning where I got rid of hundreds of promotional t-shirts, pens, pins and other stuff designed to help me think of the companies that gave them to me.

The promotional industry calls this stuff swag. As I got rid of it, to me it wasn't swag - it was junk.

Junk that occupied valuable space in my home, costs me money to move if I keep it, is negatively impactful on the environment to create, is wasteful to distribute and will be a detriment to the environment if not disposed of properly. Meanwhile, I am not using any of it for the purpose it was designed.

So from my perspective, it IS junk. It is of no benefit to me at all.

A lot of time goes into selecting the right items, deciding who gets them and when it is appropriate to deliver them.

More thought and money goes into the swag (junk) industry than is going into helping others.

Thankfully, not all companies and individuals think this way.

Some companies actually prefer a different approach. One such company, Henge Production and Consulting, buys goats on behalf of its clients instead of providing the clients with the usual t-shirts, pens, mouse pads and other useless paraphernalia. These goats allegedly make their way to destitute families in developing nations, helping to lift these families out of the dire situations that they are in.

However, this raises a question.

When such a gift is made, do the goats actually make it to these families or is this just another scam to help us feel good about helping others while not accomplishing anything measurable or useful for those in need?

Clients of Henge challenged Henge with this very question and the owners of Henge paused and realized:

"We actually don't know the answer - do our ethical gifts actually make a difference?"

So Henge set out to discover if their act of ethical gifting actually delivers goats to families in developing nations and if so, do these goats make a difference to the recipients?

Their incredible journey has been documented in a soon-to-be-released documentary entitled "Where's My Goat?". In the film, Christopher Richardson, a producer at Henge, sets out on a journey that takes him halfway around the world in his quest to find his goats and to understand what, if any, impact they have.

Do his goats exist? Does anyone benefit from such a gift or is it truly a feel-good Western ideal (or worse, is it a scam that produces nothing of value except to the scammer)?

You'll have to watch the film to find out. You can find out more on their Facebook page -

As you watch the film, you will be moved by the passion of a man as he seeks the answer to the question

"Are my intentions of making a difference in the world REALLY making a difference"?

If you have an opportunity to watch the film, be prepared to be disrupted and then ask yourself this question:

"Am I REALLY doing enough for others?"

Your heart will know the answer.

Follow your heart - it will take you places that will surprise you and will impact others for a lifetime.

As for the second of the two quotes I mentioned earlier, it was written by Daniel Berrigan and goes like this:

"Sometime in your life, hope that you might see one starved man, the look on his face when the bread finally arrives. Hope that you might have baked it or bought or even kneaded it yourself. For that look on his face, for your meeting his eyes across a piece of bread, you might be willing to lose a lot, or suffer a lot, or die a little, even."

Mr. Richardson's film is, I believe, a call to look into the eyes of someone who needs help.

When you do so, I'll bet you won't be able to resist helping them to the best of your ability.

And what's wrong with that?

In service and servanthood.



  1. Good thoughts and right efforts, Harry.

  2. We can only hope at first Harry. Then we must "do". Good post.

  3. When you reach the point that you can not resist helping that individual, even with the potential of "nothing in return" - then are you displaying true compassion.

    Loved this! Thanks Harry. May we always make a difference, simply because we "can" without caring what we'll get in return.