NRL News

The “most potent force on the planet”: Giving

by | Aug 11, 2011

By Dave Andrusko

I lead an adult Sunday school class and many times directly or indirectly we have engaged the age-old question of why bad things happen to good people? No, I am not about to attempt to “resolve” that question, but I would like to investigate what Dr. Stephen Post describes in the book he co-authored titled–“Why Good Things Happen to Good people”–and how it relates to you.

[I just picked the book up yesterday, so these remarks are based on an extended and illuminating interview he gave last year to the publication “In Character: a Journal of Everyday Virtues”]

Dr. Post runs through a number of examples—everything from the greater success rate of AA participants who “give back” by trying to help other alcoholics to the longer lives of older people who volunteer to the better recovery rate of patients whose physicians provide “medical love” –tender care.

Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities and Bioethics, says flatly, “Giving is the most potent force on the planet and will protect you your whole life.”

At the risk of sounding like I am shamelessly flattering you, I see a widespread capacity among pro-lifers to give unconditionally—what Post calls in doctor-speak  “the disinhibition of self-giving love.” He also talked about “what you might call the humane substrate.”

Again, to translate into English, that means what is it early in life that explains why later in life people  “are able to become efficient sources of unconditional love.”  From that, interestingly enough, Post segues into a discussion of the two factors that were the strongest predictors of who would courageously stand up to hide Jews from the Nazis, and who would not.

“One is whether the individual can look back in life and report high levels of empathy and care in the family, especially on the parent-child axis.” The other, Post said, is “that their parents engaged them in conversation around things like the positive version of the golden rule–not the negative but the positive version. Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”

Now please, PLEASE understand that I am not drawing an equivalency between pro-lifers’ fearless determination to find a way to save unborn babies and those men and women (and boys and girls!) during the Second World War who put their lives at risk to shelter Jews. They are worlds apart.

But think of the examples of faithfulness towards mothers and their unborn children that you are modeling for your own children that (if Dr. Post is correct) will foster caring, courageous adults who are able to love unconditionally. You are saying these babies matter and that each of us has a moral obligation not to avert our gaze.

And, not to be forgotten, what unmistakable message are you sending when you take the time to go to a nursing home and patiently feed a frail, elderly woman who needs “medical love” before she will eat? Indifference is as thick as smoke and it is up to you and me to clear the air.

You can read the entire interview at

Do yourself a favor: Take ten minutes to understand why (to quote Dr. Post) “Happiness is a byproduct of living generously.”

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