When we see people in need of help, do we respond in the way that a friend, brother, or sister would? If not, we can and must do better.
At the recent Parliament of World Religions in Toronto, I was on the final panel on the last night to answer this big question: “Now that we have all had a few days of lectures, discussions, panels, networking, and inspiration on all things religious—what should we do with it? What’s next?”
So, I ended my bit by explaining where I started the convention. I had brought thousands of books to the event and had schlepped the books on a large pushcart through the three levels from the parking garage of the Toronto Convention Center to our booth. At the booth we gave out the books as wells as postcards championing the need for early-childhood education and discount cards for S&H subscriptions and GAIA TV.
Moving the books was hard work. I told the gathering of the beads of sweat that formed on my face as I pushed my cart past the delegates, attendees, and presenters at the Parliament. On the first trip I thought, Surely someone will ask if they can help push the cart! But no one did. So, on the next load, I decided to make the book schlepp an “awareness test,” as we used to call such episodes at the spiritual community I lived in in my early 20s. The test involved noticing that someone might need our help—and actually offering assistance.
So, I strained and contorted my face, overdramatizing my plight as I pushed the heavy cart by the throngs of spiritually enlightened and religious folks. In four trips, absolutely no one asked if I needed help. So many fails of the “awareness test.” Now, I was happy to get the exercise, and, after living in Uganda for three years, I didn’t mind starting out the day a bit sweaty. I didn’t really care if anyone helped me.
But no one did.
I told that story and then pointed to an audience member and said, “If I were your brother, you would have helped me push, right?” He nodded in agreement. Then I pointed to a young woman and asked, “If I were your friend or you knew me from work or church, you would have given me a hand, right?” She gave a tentative yes, since she saw where I was going.
Then I spoke about how we need to overcome inertia and indifference and take responsibility to do something when we see that we can help. I said I was a bit dismayed with all the so-called religious people who were running around chatting about the Golden Rule and being their brother’s keeper but who were completely indifferent and unattached to seeing a fellow human being who could use a hand.
One of my teachers from long ago gave me a lecture about suffering, and the phrase that stuck with me was “Suffering exists so we have something to do.” In other words, work to end suffering. Don’t get attached to it, but do something. The disconnection between how humans see ourselves in the world and how we really are in the world is endlessly fascinating to me. We rationalize that we are too busy to help that fellow traveler, or that our help will be rejected, or that we will just be enabling some bad behavior if we help. We tell ourselves that it is not our job to help. We may feel bad about not helping—perhaps because we know that helping feels so good.
“Seal the door where evil dwells” is a line from the Great Invocation that I recited often while living in Uganda whenever I saw corruption, indifference, callousness, child abuse, tribalism, or flagrant exploitation. Now, back in the USA, I see these things again in politics and even in our spiritual communities—and so I read the Invocation aloud at the end of my talk at the Parliament. Evil is not seeing that we are one, we are connected, and we are called to be responsible.
The world needs us to stand up and be responsible, to fight for justice, to help, to do good, not to stand by and let evil flourish. We need to do this, but we don’t. My hope is that this essay will inspire you to be an action hero, to help seal the door of indifference, apathy, callousness, and laziness—whatever your next test of awareness turns out to be.
Paul Sutherland read this invocation at the Parliament of World Religions in Toronto.
The Great Invocation
From the point of Light within the Mind of God Let light stream forth into human minds. Let Light descend on Earth.
From the point of Love within the Heart of God
Let love stream forth into human hearts. May the Coming One return to Earth.
From the center where the Will of God is known Let purpose guide all little human wills — The purpose which the Masters know and serve.
From the center which we call the human race Let the Plan of Love and Light work out And may it seal the door where evil dwells.
Let Light and Love and Power restore the Plan on Earth.