When I was a kid, maybe six or seven, a man stopped his car on the side of the parkway and helped my mother change a tire. It was a long time ago, long before cell phones. We were in an awkward position. The shoulder was narrow, and the ground sloped down away from the road.
I don’t know who he was. He was just a guy who stopped to help, and I never saw him again. But I remember something about him. He wouldn’t take the reward my mother offered him. He just shook his head and said that she could help somebody else some day. And he smiled at me. I was included in the deal.
You probably have a story like that too. A lot of people do. Things like that even have a name now. It’s called paying it forward.
Our lives are better because of things people do without hoping for rewards or recognition. There were teachers who spent extra time with us and helped us to figure out fractions. There were librarians who suggested books to us, books that showed us new worlds. There were scout leaders and coaches and other mentors.
Kids learn a lot of things from watching us. They probably learn more about what’s important from what we do than from what we say. My mother would have helped the next person even if the man who changed the tire hadn’t suggested it, and he probably knew that. I think that he said what he said for my benefit.
Sometimes it’s easy to help because it doesn’t cost much or take up a lot of time. Other times it’s harder, and it takes a real commitment.
There are lots of ways to help, lots of ways to make things better, lots of ways to change the world. And we can do it.
We can start by reminding our leaders that they have a responsibility to everybody, not just to the people who agree with them, not just to the people who contributed to their campaigns, not just to the people they do business with. We can remind our leaders that being poor isn’t a lifestyle choice and that being rich doesn’t mean that you’re qualified to hold office. We can remind our leaders that honesty and openness and integrity are important and count for a lot. We can remind our leaders that betraying our allies and breaking our promises is beneath us.
The world is watching us. They can see how we treat the treat the poor and the sick and the lonely and the disadvantaged. They can see how we treat the most vulnerable members of society. Our kids and our grandkids are watching too. Is this the example we want to set for them?
They know when we don’t do the right thing. They know when we fail to pay it forward.
The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column.