Why Helping Others is the Key to Helping Yourself
“What I know for sure is that what you give comes back to you.” — Oprah Winfrey
I. A Teachable Moment
Ride a New York City subway and, most likely, you’re bound to be touched by guilt.
Touched by a stranger’s whisper for spare change, you try best to spare a touch of change from the misery, though all the while trying not to touch the hand. After all, the stranger’s hand is filthy; the sidelong glance is accusatory.
A few days ago, I found myself running late for an appointment. And true to form, I kept on running to the subway station.
As fate would have it, just as my hand touched the railing to head downstairs, I locked eyes with a homeless fella standing to my right. Sure, it was well within my right to have redirected my gaze, but it was too late.
“The eyes are the windows to the soul” . . . And in that very instant — in which our orbital windows left us both standing soul to soul, if only for a split second — it sufficed for dipping my hand in a pocket.
“Here ya go!” I blurted while handing over the crinkly 5-dollar bill. And that was that! Or at least I thought it was.
Later that evening, I went for a routine jog thru Central Park West. Because I jog with earplugs, I’m for the most part immersed in mindfulness whenever my legs busy themselves churning about.
As for mindfulness, it merely refers to the inner-belief that whatever is happening now is more important than what has, should’ve, or could’ve happened, or — what will, should, or could happen. And so, the instant my eyes met what appeared to be a dollar bill flitting about on the ground, I stopped dead in my tracks.
I crouched down.
As fate would have it, my eyes locked on what appeared to be the number 5 stamped on the folded over piece of green paper. Upon closer inspection, I gulped. A tingly, warm sensation ensued. After all, I’d just scooped up a 50-dollar bill.
For the remainder of the jog, my heart outraced my thoughts and legs. The philosopher within longed for an answer to life’s latest riddling Sphinx. After all, in my third ear I overheard Prince Hamlet whisper:
“There is something in this more than natural, if philosophy could find it out” — Shakespeare
II. We Live in a UNIverse
“The beginning of wisdom,” said Socrates, “is the definition of terms.”
Armed with the Socratic method, it becomes apparent the root meaning of the term Universe lies in the prefix. And because uni- simply means oneness, it’s no wonder Neil deGrasse Tyson noted why “science reveals that all life on Earth is one.”¹
From aardvark to zucchini, every life form merely expresses one principle.
The principle of love or oneness! After all, what more is love than a deep affection that unites two human beings?
Aha! That prefix “uni-” pops up again. Given that we live in a uni-, not multiverse, everything that occurs on the world’s stage is essentially two sides of the same coin.
Perhaps the above explains why in history’s most famous equation, Einstein merely noted because the universal “energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be changed from one form to another,” such continual wardrobe changing essentially means the giver is ultimately the receiver, too.
Or as Einstein famously put it:
Years before Einstein had dazzled the world of physics with an equation that essentially says the universe runs on this universal energy (E), and that energy is disguised as everything we can see, hear and touch (mc2), he studied one of his favorite philosophers, Arthur Schopenhauer.
What distinguished Schopenhauer from all the other great thinkers was this: he was the first major philosopher to have bridged the gap between Western and Eastern philosophy.²
In other words, Schopenhauer studied the world’s first religion, Hinduism, and unified the best of the East with the best of the West. Bingo!
“All this is Brahman,” the Upanishads reads. “That [Brahman] is one, without a second.”
What the yogis of the Far East called “Brahman,” the prophets of the Middle East dubbed the one God which cannot be created or destroyed. Sound familiar? Nikola Tesla surely thought so:
“What one man calls God, another calls the laws of physics.”
When Einstein famously called science “lame” without religious legs and religion “blind” without scientific eyes, he essentially unified these seemingly two contradictory ways of seeing reality.³ And as you well know — when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
In short, so far as this is a universe, everything contained within it ultimately sings along to this one verse. And that one verse is always the same: giving is receiving turned inside-out!
III. Life is a Mirror
“What I know for sure,” said Oprah, “is that what you give comes back to you.”
Whenever some stargazing tourist asks me for directions to the nearest subway terminal, whenever some budding writer randomly reaches out and asks for a free writing tip or two, in every such case — I gladly give away knowledge.
Why? Perhaps what I know for sure is this: if you want knowledge, give knowledge. After all,
To teach is to learn twice!
Years ago when I first moved to the city so nice they had to name it twice, I spotted a homeless fella on the subway. His blistered bare feet — infested with sores — proved to be an eye-sore.
Gripped by the moment, before my adult mind could override my child’s heart, I slid the pair of grey Nike Air Force 1s from my feet.
“Here ya go,” I mumbled while handing over the sneakers. Besides, the right shoe was a little too snug and hurt my bunion, so I welcomed sliding on my Nike slippers anyhow.
Why? Perhaps what I know for sure is this: if you want love, give love. After all,
“It is one of the beautiful compensations in this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
From the Buddha’s insistence that it’s wise to “think good thoughts, say nice things, do good for others” because “everything will come back” . . . to the Nazarene’s good news regarding why because “you reap what you sow,” it would be wise to “do to others what you would have them do to you” — is not the secret of life apparent?
Aha! Whoever truly grasps life’s oldest secret will abruptly come to terms with why I “coincidently” found that 50-dollar bill in the park.
Arm yourself with the Socratic method while glancing at the root meaning of coincidence, and its mathematical root becomes apparent. After all, coincide merely means to “agree in nature.”
Life is but a mirror! The only thing that distinguishes us from all the other creatures of the planet is the human mind, whose sole function lies in its capacity for reflection. It’s apparent, then, that we mortals can never extend beyond experiencing — re- + activity.
As for the prefix re-, it simply means “once more” or “a return to a previous state.” Bingo!
In every such attempt to “pause for reflection” or “recognize a problem” or “realize the truth,” notice the prefix re- is the recurring reality of your reasoning. Perhaps this explains why Sir Isaac Newton told us centuries ago:
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
IV. The Takeaway
We mortals can no more escape our own actions than can we outrun the speed of light to evade our own shadows. Ah, but unfortunately, most are ignorant of this age-old secret of life.
Perhaps Socrates — the wisest of the wise — best summed up the matter as follows:
“The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.”
Armed with the Socratic method, it becomes apparent the word “ignore” is a result of ignorance. Such ignorance of the secret of life, then, explains why so many ignore the secret of life.
How many daily ignore the reminder that the only place to find free cheese is in a mousetrap?
How many daily ignore the sign that states there’s no such thing as a free lunch?
How many daily ignore Coach Vince Lombardi’s advice about why the only place where you’ll find “success” before work is in the dictionary?
Though most will tell you how unfair life is, such complaining merely conceals the ignorance that results in their habitual ignoring of this age-old secret. After all, “You will get all you want in life,” said Zig Ziglar, “if you help enough other people get what they want.”
In short, the key to happiness can best be summed as follows:
The goal of true enlightenment isn’t to realize your unity with everything, but to realize the fact you are everything. And so, giving must be receiving turned inside-out.
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 Tyson, deGrasse Neil (2014). Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey. Based on Cosmos: A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan & Steven Soter.
 Schopenhauer, Arthur (1909). The World as Will and Representation. Translated from the German by R. B. Haldane, M.A., and J. Kemp, M.A. Vol. I.
 Einstein, Albert (1956). “Science and Religion,” Ideas and Opinions. New York: Citadel Press, p. 26.