In this day and age, affluence, influence and success are often defined by how busy we appear to be. When we ask our friends or acquaintances how they are doing, they usually respond with the same reply. They smile and say, “It’s been busy. Really busy.”
Irrespective of how time-consuming success might be, a few things never change. Our hearts are full when we share our time and our lives as well as our vulnerabilities and insecurities with others. No matter how busy our schedules might be and how important the work we do is, our lives are made worthy through acts of friendship and giving — by opening our hearts to others.
How can we make time for an act of friendship when we barely have time to make dinner for the family? I believe we do it all for two reasons. We practice acts of friendship and giving because we are social beings who were meant to feel love, peace and joy no matter how hard life feels at the moment. The laws of the universe are such that the quickest way to feel love, peace and joy is through being vulnerable, by sharing, by being authentic. Opening our hearts becomes an act of giving.
One recent example of this was after the New Zealand shooting incident at mosques in Christchurch. The acts last month brought that nation to a standstill.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responded immediately and showed up in the Muslim community with a head veil out of respect for their customs and traditions, and she shared her empathy for the community.
She declared the shooting an act of terrorism — regardless of the groups that the shooter or the victims belonged to. She shared the vulnerability of New Zealand with the community and the world by acknowledging that New Zealand had a problem, a mindset that led to such behavior as well as gaps in arms regulations that made this act of terrorism possible.
She came in as a stranger to the Christchurch Muslim community and became a fast friend to them. She set the tone for the nation on how to give, befriend and support victims of attacks. Her act was amplified by thousands who opened their hearts and held the space for healing of the Christchurch Muslim community.
In Austin, Interfaith Action of Central Texas quickly collaborated with the Muslim community and arranged a vigil to honor the victims of the New Zealand shooting. Four hundred people showed up in a church in Austin at a moment’s notice to express their support to the local Muslim community and to pray for those affected by the act of violence.
These 400 people created the magical space for our local Muslim community to grieve, to vent, to feel heard. As a Muslim, I felt embraced and reassured that we were safe in Austin irrespective of our faith traditions and beliefs. That night we made 400 new friends, and I promise you, we felt the love in the room, our hearts were full. We had 400 hearts opening to us, epitomized the ultimate act of giving.
We can be strategic about taking care of ourselves to experience love, peace and joy in our daily lives in between work, soccer practice and piano lessons. We can talk to our co-workers about the nonprofits we each support. We can trade services in these nonprofits to create new pilot initiatives to launch experimental programs. We can be deliberate in serving our communities together vs. in silos.
In the process, we create the space for getting to know the people we had been acquainted with, possibly for decades and had never really gotten to know. We can give ourselves reasons to care about what is close to their hearts and see the similarity with what is close to ours. Then we can watch our other differences like politics and ethnic prejudices melt away.
If our time is limited, we can at least post a few lines on social media checking in, and saying we are here for each other, in good times or bad. Whether it’s a ride to the ER in the middle of the night, or a shared conversation over a cup of tea. You do not know how you can affect other people. Letting them know that they are not alone in this world, is a powerful act of friendship and giving.
Sarah Jabeen is a member of Muslim Space, a board member of Interfaith Action of Central Texas and the CEO of Discover STEAM.