Safety Nets

I was able to catch up with a former student of mine earlier this month. He considers me a sort of mentor, since I'm older and have tried to help him out at various times in his life, but I must also say that he is an inspiration to me, in what he has been able to achieve and how grounded and generous he is amidst all of those achievements.

As we got caught up, I could not help but marvel at how many more safety nets I have been blessed with than he has. Sure, I have worked hard at every step; but my parents provided me with so much along the way, whether letting me live under their roof from age zero to 18, paying for my undergraduate years (at an expensive Ivy League school, no less), and well into my prime earning years continue to provide financial help at various times to me and my kids.

Contrast this with my friend, who has been the man of his household of origin for a very long time now. This role carries with it financial responsibilities to his mother and siblings, responsibilities which may increase in the years to come as his mother ages and has more medical needs and less earning capability. Far from having safety nets, he is a safety net to others, which is surely a stressful burden. And yet, despite these responsibilities, my friend is far more generous with his time and money than I am, in terms of the proportions of both he devotes to charitable causes.

I am not ashamed of my own generosity, for I do take giving seriously; nor am I embarrassed to have enjoyed the privilege I have enjoyed throughout my life, for those are good things that should not be hidden away but rather humbly acknowledged. But conversations with my friend provide me with the proper perspective so that I am mindful of what fortune I have been able to enjoy out of no deservedness of my own, and that I should accordingly be grateful and generous.
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