Crisis Not Required

by George M. Smith

One great thing about America that we see over and over again is the comradery, community and self-sacrifice during and after disasters and traumatizing situations.  Just this year alone we’ve seen this played out countless times during hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the Las Vegas shooting, and the California fires. From these surreal circumstances you can read story after story that move you to tears, compassion and hopefully action.  In times like these it seems that some are compelled to action that occurs with seemingly no hesitation and little thought.  I suppose this is because there is “now, or else” component to what is happening at the time.

But, what about every other day?  What would it be like if that same focus of energy, conscious effort and the displacement of situational over-analysis was applied in our everyday circumstances?  Is that even possible?  I do believe these are valid questions, many of which have likely been asked before. While disasters are not new, the difference today is that our consciousness is tuned-in because we have so many ways to experience these events, sometimes unintentionally, via social media.

So what do we do about it?  First, I suggest we take action with the same mindset as in a crisis. A need is identified so I act, now or else.  Should our response be any different for someone who is under threat of dying or being injured immediately versus someone is under threat of dying or being injured slowly? No, but I think that happens more frequently than we want to admit – largely because we don’t feel the sense of urgency, and that unfortunately affords us the time to think about it.  In other words, we talk ourselves out of action or justify our inaction.

Second, we should acknowledge that those around us aren’t typically in the middle of immediate danger, but on a daily basis many are experiencing medical, mental or spiritual injuries some of which are more painful and lasting than physical injury. Let’s be more aware of people and their real needs.  Isn’t that what we would want for ourselves? Let’s also agree that money usually helps but it is often not the best solution, however it seems to be the easiest way to help. After all, a hug or a smile costs nothing.

Third, we should take purposeful action which should be based on what we want for them not from them, and it shouldn’t be attention getting either. Drawing attention to ourselves can often water-down what we intended to achieve in the first place and opens the door for self-aggrandizement.  Have you ever anonymously done something for someone and then quietly enjoyed the personal satisfaction of your accomplishment?  There was no reward necessary. The act and outcome were the reward, and that can never be taken away from you. It is, at least for me, invaluable. I don’t know about you but I find that my personal misery index is at its highest when I’m thinking about me. Conversely I feel better when I am engaged and serving others willingly.  Those that regularly volunteer know this to be true.

Does making an impact require being a hero or some huge act that turns into a movie? Of course not. There is so much truth in “the little things mean a lot.”  Every day we have an opportunity to stop, pause the DVR and simply make a phone call or write a note. We can regularly serve at the homeless shelter, invite someone less fortunate than you to dinner at a restaurant they could never afford themselves, visit someone in jail, share your knowledge with a struggling entrepreneur without fear of them becoming competition, or even taking time to understand someone’s needs and fears and then introduce them to someone who has the expertise they need. All these things are just as easy to do as not do. Honestly, how long does it really take? For how long can the potentially immeasurable effects of these little acts be felt? Perhaps it is the proverbial gift that keeps giving.

When most of us sit in the comfort of our homes or offices and watch these tragedies unfold it is so terribly easy to be the arm-chair-quarterback because we think we have the right answers, or not. We are the ones who see things with ‘crystal clarity’. Frequently we shout at the TV, respond to the words on our phones, or react the video on Facebook or Instagram saying “the government must do something. They should ban this, pass that law, or make so and so act a certain way.”  Meanwhile there are those right under our noses quietly dealing with life – right now. Why don’t we react the same way when we see their circumstances? Is it perhaps because it’s “just” one person versus a group, or because we see it every day and grow desensitized, or maybe because it’s not played out on the national stage?  Maybe it’s all those things.

For one specific group I would like to issue a challenge, employers.  Owners, executives and managers are in a unique position to live out an example of caring and service, in and outside the walls of the company. At Smith Bruer Advisors we are so blessed to be in the service and relationship business. We have chosen to foster a culture of service through volunteering at organizations like Special Olympics, the Kearney Center, Junior Achievement, and others. Those are the more public areas.  Like many in the medical and legal fields we also routinely advise people on a pro-bono basis. That’s not so public. Some just need a listening ear and a qualified person to point them in the right direction.  Being able to provide some direction with no expectation of compensation is satisfying.  Helping someone get on their feet is an honor. If you haven’t tried it, give it a go. You might tap into a whole new source of joy in your life.

No matter the circumstances, local or national, or how big or small the crisis, everyday people are hurting, and most of us are fortunate and capable of doing something. We are in a position to just act and do the potentially impactful “little things”.  In reflecting on the various events especially those involving mass shootings, I can’t help but wonder if those news stories would have never aired and if people would have needlessly died – if the folks who committed the acts had felt loved and cared for, or if they had something or someone to live for.  Could one person – a neighbor, a boss, a co-worker – have made a difference?  Who knows, and maybe I am naïve for even thinking that. However, what I do know is caring for one another does not require government intervention, an act of Congress or a hearing before the Supreme Court.  Truthfully I’d just government not be involved at all.

Could we stop for a moment and think about how things might be different if we just made action a lifestyle? The scriptures say it best, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against these things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23. What if that is what we focused on and acted out each day? As for us, if we are to be known for anything may this be it.

Smith Bruer Advisors is a fee-only fiduciary Registered Investment Adviser firm in Tallahassee, Florida.