As happens today, the world confronted crises many years ago. Much like it had done many years earlier, and many years before then. It seems that crises, like most things, tend to be cyclical. With each one, we discover that we are not quite as powerful and all-knowing as we’d hoped. The tide rises. The tide falls. The tide rises again. As tough as it may be for those of us stranded by the tide, isn’t there comfort in knowing that it will soon flow the other way? Is it our mission to prepare for its inevitable reoccurrence or to curse the sea for its flow?
Among the challenges of these phases is that a human life may be too short to experience them from such a perspective as to understand their pattern. Do we imagine caprice where symmetry exists? Do we imagine chaos where there is order, so when the world shifts, we condemn it as ruthless and uncaring? We wonder how it could do us such harm with so little warning.
But what have we done to prepare ourselves? What do we do to react? Thirty-fifth U.S. President John F. Kennedy once famously proclaimed, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” While many have said some variation before and after, the theme remains the same – seek to contribute rather than to benefit. Many of us believe it. Alas, many others just as fervently hold that they cannot, or should not, participate. “What’s the use?” To win, one must gain advantage.
If we focus on our contribution and not our take-home, do we ultimately benefit more than if we retreat entirely? Do we have nothing to offer? Labor, time, compassion? When we take and not give, do we eventually lose?