This past Sunday, New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof delivered Syracuse University’s 2013 Commencement Address. I was lucky enough to hear him as the 2011 Junior League Annual Conference keynote speaker almost exactly two years ago. (Really. Nearly to the day.)
(I realize I’ve previously written about some of Mr. Kristof’s central messages - whether embedded in select Times columns or in other universities’ and colleges’ commencement addresses before, for both my own blog and that of the Junior League of Syracuse - so, please, forgive the repetition.)
After reading the transcript of the address, I was struck by the similarity to what I recalled hearing in Philadephia two years ago. Sure, the stories and vignettes were different, but the fundamental messages were the same. So what did Mr. Kristof relay to SU gradates?
“Talent is universal and opportunity is not.” Coincidentally, my husband Chris and I were talking about this very thing Sunday morning, just a few hours before Mr. Kristof gave his speech. Our country is the land of opportunity. In the words of Mr. Kristof, “…we have all benefited from opportunities that others extended to us.” We all have a responsibility to pay it forward, some way, somehow.
This could come in the form of making a financial contribution to a not-for-profit organization; volunteering at a local food pantry, shelter (human or animal, take your pick), or <insert your favorite social/educational/faith-based charity of choice here>; or helping a neighbor in need. The “what” and “how” aren’t as important as simply contributing to something larger than yourself.
See, here’s the thing. By helping others, you help yourself. Mr. Kristof calls this the “selfishness of altuism.” Yes, you read correctly: “selfishness,” not “selflessness.”
Because as Mr. Kristof says, “The blunt truth is that all our efforts to help other people have a pretty mixed record of success. But they have this almost perfect record of helping ourselves.“ There have even been studies supporting the linkages between generosity and social engagement with emotional and physical health.
Do something. Help others. Help yourself.
“Help Wanted” image from Flickr user Thewmatt.