It has become clear that one’s attitudes and one’s actions contribute greatly to how one experiences difficult times, whether it is a cross-country move, a surgery, the death in one’s circle of friends/family, or a loss of a job (just to name a few possibilities). When our focus is totally placed on our own self, moving forward in life becomes very difficult. If, however, we change our focus outwardly then positive things can and often do happen. That doesn’t mean that positive thinking or even positive action will cure all that ails you, but it does make a difference in how we engage the world that we know, especially during difficult times. Conversations such as these must take into account the deep resources to be found in our faith traditions, most of which call on the individual to look outward to the needs of the other and the needs of the community, especially at those times when we’re tempted to close in on ourselves.
Stephen G. Post’s The Hidden Gifts of Helping has the initial look of a self-help book, a genre that I have always kept arm’s length, because too often “self-help” books offer easy answers to difficult questions or push the reader to a bit too much self-involvement, and thus ultimately fall short of the mark. Post’s book is in the self-help genre, but it’s more than the typical self-help book. Written by someone deeply rooted in a particular faith tradition (Episcopalian) who has done graduate work in theology, this is book suggests that we can derive spiritual, emotional, and physical benefit from reaching out to others.
As noted, Post writes as a person of faith, but the spirituality that provides the foundation for much of what he writes is often left more implicit than explicit. He brings into the conversation biblical texts and Buddhist writings. That is, he believes that the principles espoused here – that helping others brings health and hope to one’s own life as well as contributing to the common good of all – can be found present in almost all faith traditions. He draws on these varied resources – both sacred and secular – in a fairly seamless manner, so that we’re able to grasp his basic premise, which is that both the giver and the recipient of self-giving love benefit from this exchange is deeply rooted in the spiritual principle of the golden rule as well as the commandment to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.