For most people reading this column, life is comfortable. Even living in Palestine with its considerable day to day struggles, I see tall buildings, fancy cars, banks with money in them, shops, and restaurants.
But does this material access mean any of us are happy?
When I look into people’s faces, I still see deep sadness. People walk fast, with anxious, fearful hearts, broken hopes, and fake smiles. Why? Where is real joy, peace, and love in the 21st century?
Everyone’s faces are in their phones and our eyes our turn away from reality. In our comfort zones, we don’t want to see each other or feel guilt or responsibility for the pain of others.
So how do we break through to joy?
When I meet people or close friends here in the West Bank, and they start complaining about the challenges of Palestinian life, the occupation, the poverty, the humiliation at checkpoints, the threat of violence, I always ask them the same question: “Can we see what it feels like to do a good deed? Will it shift our reality?”
There is no reason to delay devoting yourself to good deeds as a strategy for relieving your suffering and that of others. The alternative is surrendering to hopelessness. Instead, we can change our destinies and start building a new life that is full of hope, even for Palestinians stuck in the occupation. We can act like the warriors, heroes, great people, prophets that inspire us, like Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., and many other good people who fought injustice, violence, and discrimination.
Whenever I feel down or discouraged that the world is hopeless, or I am too tired to believe that doing good deeds will change anything about my life, I always remember the poem “Think Upon Others,” by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.
When you prepare your breakfast, think upon others
Do not forget to feed the pigeons
When you engage in your wars, think upon others
Do not forget to demand peace
As you pay your water bill, think upon others!
Who seek sustenance from the clouds, not a tap
And when you return to a house – your house – think upon others
Such as those who live in tents
When you fall asleep counting sheep (planets), think upon others
Who cannot find a space for sleeping
And as you search for meaning with fancy metaphors, think upon others
Who have lost their right to words
And while you think of faraway others, think of yourself
And say: I am a candle to this darkness
In the Old Testament of the Bible, the power of good deeds is also examined in beautiful detail:
Those who sow with tears,
will reap with songs of joy.6
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
-in Psalms 126:5-6
Every morning, House of Hope students commit to a life devoted to performing good deeds. Maybe they got to eat breakfast that day, or maybe they didn’t. Maybe there was gunfire outside their home last night, or maybe they got a good night’s sleep. But still, every morning they stand up and recite with pride the following words:
May I be a non-violent person in the footsteps of those who fought for love, like
Gandhi, Martin, and Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and to be their example
And great prophets who refused to obey injustice, murder and racism
I promise to love my country, my school and my neighbors
Be committed not to be violent with myself, and not to put hate in my heart
To put love where hate and forgiveness where the abuse and agreement where the dispute
And faith where doubt and light where darkness and joy where hopelessness
O Lord, use me for your peace
And to respect every human being different than me in belief, color, ethnics and religions
And to be the peaceful resistance, a path towards freedom dignity and independence
The most honored before God is the most faithful
One of the greatest things any of us can do in life is to reach out and do a good deed for another human being. Whether it means offering your compassion or making a donation of time, energy, or money, there are so many ways to perform an act of loving kindness. In return, you will feel joy far greater than you expected and certainly greater than what any material object can bring you.
Let’s support these children like Mahmoud Darwish’s candles to the darkness. Help us to keep our mission at House of Hope alive. Don’t give up peace.
Salaam, peace, shalom,
Milad Vosgueritchian, co-founder and chairman, House of Hope