I am going on vacation next week, when I typically undergo a complete news fast. It is an annual tradition of mine that is very good for the heart, mind and soul. As if to underscore the point, my pre-vacation week in the office has been a really awful time to be a newshound.
The civil disturbances in Ferguson, Mo., are an ugly reminder of just how much farther we have to go in this country before we can claim to have gotten a handle on our own racial tensions. But that does not hold a candle to some of the real horrors in the world.
Fighting has renewed in Israel and Gaza, after a ceasfire expired and Gaza went ahead and fired rockets into Israel. This, after finally claiming credit for the kidnap and murder of the three Israeli teenagers that kicked off the latest round of warfare.
Meanwhile, ISIS militants – currently on parade as the most evil people in the world – beheaded photojournalist James Foley after failing to secure a nearly $132.5 million ransom for him.
And Ebola continues to spread unchecked in West Africa, with some 1,350 dead. Police in Liberia have clashed with protestors while setting up quarantine zones. Elsewhere, Ebola clinics have been destroyed by mobs shortly after opening. And all this, amid the CDC saying it will get experts there to help within 30 days. They need them in 30 minutes.
It all makes you want to find good news. And thankfully, there is that, too. There is a viral video going around of a beluga whale playing “peek-a-boo” with kids at the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Conn., that shows that yes, whales do have a sense of humor. And that they tend to have a soft spot for kids. I have looked a humpback whale in the eye at close range one time. There is something going on in there with these animals, so I do not doubt this beluga is actually playing with these children. And it is wonderful.
But my favorite bit of news is a story of how Russian officials are pressuring Bulgarian officials to do something about graffiti artists who are spraypainting the sculpted figures in Soviet-era war monuments to look like American superheroes. I mean, look at this. Just look at it! When I saw this, I told my Facebook feed that the world’s journalists could go home for the day, for there would not be a better news story that day. On a related note, I have to wonder what bad guy these people are all facing. Anyone who can unite Ronald McDonald, Superman, Santa Claus and the Joker in common cause must be pretty bad. Go get ‘em, boys!
But there have been feelgood stories of more meaningful consequence. The ALS ice bucket challenge totally took over the Internet this week, as everybody, and I do mean everybody either took this challenge, knows somebody who did, or saw a video of the challenge. The rules are simple: you call out somebody to either dunk a bucket of ice water on their head, or give a donation to ALS research. My wife and I got called out, did the video, and in turn, called out our entire martial arts school to do the same. We’re making a donation for every single student who takes the challenge. Currently 10 have done so. This campaign has raised awareness about ALS across the country, and has generated more than $53 million in donations at the time of this writing. Now THAT is people power.
On a much more local note, however, there was a story in St. Petersberg Florida where a pay-it-forward chain has reached truly epic proportions. A pay-it-forward chain pretty much does what it says on the tin: you roll up to a drive-thru (sometimes this happens at the counter, but it seems more prevalent at drive-thrus) and you order your drink, and you leave behind enough money to pay for the drink that the next person in line is going to order. The idea is that when you receive this act of random kindness, you are inspired to do the same, and on and on it goes. In this particular incident, the PIF chain had reached a mind-boggling 378 people. Isn’t that great?
Everybody else thought so, too, except for local blogger Peter Schorsch, who decided that the pay-it-forward chain wasn’t generosity, it was some kind of collective guilt trip to get you to pay for somebody else’s drink. His logic was pretty shaky, considering that the PIF challenge was in your car, where it’s incredibly easy to just say no and not feel embarrassed. It wasn’t like people were being called on stage to do it. It was little more than when your grocery cashier asks if you want to add a $1 donation to your bill for some local charity. You can say no and people won’t spit on you. But the mere presence of generosity was enough to get Schorsch to go to the Starbucks, order two venti mocha frappuccinos and decline to pay it forward just to do so. Peter Schorsch broke the chain at 378 people.
Peter Schorsch is, of course, a complete and total bastard.
He went on to say that he is not a complete jerk, and he tipped the Starbucks baristas $100 to prove it. But all that proved was that it was worth $100 to him to break the chain, which only confirms his bastardy. He’s like the cadre of ALS bucket challenge haters who, seeing a nationwide outpouring of support for a dread disease that has a 100% mortality rate within a few years and has no cure, complain that people should just donate instead of making YouTube videos of themselves getting wet. Or worse, complain that people are just wasting water and should be ashamed of themselves.
In a world where there is honest-to-God savagery and villainy and evil, in a world where people find it so much easier to be cruel and indifferent rather than kind and involved, people who pour buckets on their heads or who buy somebody else a free cup of overpriced coffee are exactly the kind of everyday hero we all need. We need people to care about things they could otherwise ignore. We need people to show each other acts of kindness just for the sake of being kind. We need to do good not because it is rewarding, not because it makes us feel better, but because it is the right thing to do, because it is something inherently productive and beneficent. We need to do these things because, collectively, they prove that life is good and worth celebrating and protecting.
I know you already know this, being in insurance. This is your business. This is what you do every day, even if it’s not under a bucket of really cold water or by way of a free espresso. Even if you don’t get credit for it, you do these things anyway. I get ribbed for being a cheerleader for insurance by my friends, but they can rib me all they want. I believe it. And yeah, people in insurance can make a great living doing what they do. but when you’re some guy wading through floodwaters to check on a client when your OWN home is flooded, too, that’s not about the money. That’s about something else. When you attend your client’s funeral AFTER the claims check has been delivered, that’s not about the money. That’s about something else.
There will always be those who see such things and find it repellent. Maybe it’s because it asks them if they want to be entirely selfish today, and they don’t like what the honest answer would be. Maybe they resent anyone who has the energy to give of themselves without expecting a return. I don’t know, honestly. People like Peter Schorsch are a mystery to me. After all, he could have just stayed home, but instead he got in his car, drove across town, ordered the biggest drinks the place had to offer, all just to be a buzzkill.
But, the happy ending here is that a second PIF chain started at the same Starbucks, and quickly grew and grew and grew. I guess there will always be haters of charity out there. But the givers of the world don’t let it stop them. They just give harder. And that’s an awesome thing indeed.
So, in that spirit, I’ll encourage each and every one of you to join the ALS bucket challenge. Pledge a few bucks to the cause, and then challenge your colleagues, your friends, your family. Wear a t-shirt with your agency’s logo on it, while you’re at it. Or go start a PIF chain at your local coffee shop or ice cream parlor or whatever. Maybe stick your business card in there and the person who doesn’t pay it forward has to pay you a visit to discuss their life insurance needs. Chances are, they need way more than they already have.
But just go out and do some good. If you need inspiration, give my friends at the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation a call, or see what your favorite insurance carrier likes to support. Or, just keep doing what you have been doing, supporting the local ball team, kicking into community fundraisers, whatever. Just keep doing it. Don’t let the bastards have the final say.