Benevolence as seen by a child


We were hungry, my older brothers and I.

This was normal during my first three years in East Texas. But on one particular evening when I was about 8, that hunger led to a profound experience that still affects me after nearly 40 years.

It should it come as no surprise when I tell you we were poor. And while we had the usual trappings of poverty, the significant detail is that we lived in a poor part of town along with equally poor neighbors. And as poor kids in the pre-videogame era were prone to do, we wandered the neighborhood like the abundant stray cats and dogs we saw. I suspect those stray cats and dogs and I shared similar desires–get some food and avoid crossing paths with the wrong people.

I remember we were out one evening meandering. Presumably this was before “stranger danger” was a thing because what happened next broke every rule of good sense.

It happened quickly and the details are fuzzy, but I remember being near a house. Men–complete strangers–saw us. These were men who looked at three kids and saw an opportunity. They approached us. The next thing I know, they are hurrying us into this unfamiliar house.

There were other people in the house, including women, and they were involved in some religious activity. I vaguely remember crosses and singing, but this was a house, not a church. I do not remember other kids, but that may be because I was too confused to notice. I did not have time to process what was going on around me before a man rubbed something on my forehead–maybe olive oil. After all of that baffling activity, what happened next surprised me most.

They fed us. Then they sent us on our way.

That is not what made this a profound experience for a little kid. That came from something that made the experience simultaneously confusing and unforgettable.

Not one person in that house spoke English.

I can only wonder what exactly those Hispanic men saw when they looked at us kids walking on the street. We were a different race. We spoke a different language. They could not know our religion or lack thereof and they certainly could not convert us because of the language barrier. They could not know if any of us were juvenile criminals, gay, or whatever else they might hate.

They could not know if we hated whatever we thought they were.

I only know that they must have seen kids who looked so in need that they saw an opportunity to help. People who had so little chose to share it with kids who were so different from them. Surely they could have kept that food for themselves or shared it with those they had more in common with.

From that experience, I learned something that seems so simple.

The most benevolent people do not look for excuses to turn away someone in need.

They do not leave someone to starve because their skin is a different color. They do not leave someone on the street because they speak a different language. They do not allow violence against someone because they are a different gender or are attracted to one or more genders. They do not leave innocent children amid the wars of their elders because they are from a different land or religion.

The benevolent do not justify their inhumanity by dehumanizing others.

True benevolence sees only the need to be filled.

Looking for a need to fill? Find resources in the Ignite Change section.

–Howard Slacum

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