This quote has been a beacon in my life.

Lord, Number us we beseech thee in the ranks of those who went forth from this university longing only for those things for which thou doest make us long; men for whom the complexity of issues only served to renew their zeal to deal with them; men who alleviated pain by sharing it, and men who were always willing to risk something big for something good.  So may we leave in the world a little more truth, a little more justice, a little more beauty than would have been there had we not loved the world enough to quarrel with it for what it is not but still could be.  O God, take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, and take our hearts and set them on fire.  Amen. 

  [Dr. William Sloane Coffin, commencement benediction
Yale University (1960’s?) transcribed from Studs Terkel’s Born To Live]

We should clarify this statement. It refers to sharing the burden of pain, not the pain itself. Sharing a burden is positive, lifting pain off the sufferer. We can make that obvious with examples:

  • When my wife had the pain of hip replacement it would not have helped to have mine replaced so that I would experience the same pain. I shared the burden of her pain by doing some of her work to reduce the amount of her pain without duplicating it.
  • Hurting people hurt people. Rioters are spreading their pain to others. If I assume their position, subjecting myself to the pain they feel, I am expanding the problem, not reducing it. Bearing the burden of their pain means changing the conditions that pained them. That is positive sensitivity.
  • If a friend commits suicide, I am not required to commit suicide also. Sharing the burden means to comfort and serve the survivors and reduce the pain of others in danger of suicide.
  • When a friend is distraught, it does not help if I become distraught and feel the same way. That diminishes my strength to bear some of the burden. I must apply all my strength, which lies in my happiness.

This is transfiguring “sharing” into the image of bearing a load. My caisson carries the ammunition of happiness. I load it with the sufferer’s burden. Sharing does not mean I jump off the vehicle to become as helpless as my friend. Sharing calls for using my means to carry a common load. Bearing up a person’s sorrow on my strength replaces pain with shared happiness. It requires being the happiness that I share.

In the heat of riot, to abandon my happiness is to abandon my post and be of no help at all. Rioters (hurting people) are the first victims. Unconditional forgiveness points in both directions. Like it or not, we rely on those who have the happiness and the means for making a difference to do so—not through gridlocked government, but through loving administration of their own resources for the common good.

My friends of modest means are already engaging in commerce that is not so much directed at their personal benefit as it is intended to maintain the livelihoods of others. People of substantial means need to apply their management skills far beyond merely patronizing businesses. An individual can grab the flag and run with it.

Our shared joy will not be reconstruction; it will instead create a new world.

Photo: Pexels