Chaplain's Corner + Supporting Others
Recently I happened to see an episode of a reality TV series that centered on the learning and personal conflicts of a group of students at a well-known high-end United States culinary school. The struggles of two female students were particularly noteworthy and point out the important need for the support of others for achieving our aspirations in life.
The older of the two students was married to a husband who not only did not encourage her but actively denigrated and tried to sabotage anything she did to achieve her goal of becoming a chef. The other, a very attractive young unmarried mother of a toddler, held on to a job in a 'gentlemen's club' - distasteful to her, but a financial necessity. She frankly admitted being ashamed of her work, and that her family would be also. However, her family, especially her aloof mother, disapproved of any endeavor she might engage in.
The episode portrayed an attempt by both students to use the culinary skills they had learned thus far to succeed in a task that would significantly advance their career goal. The first student obtained the owner's permission to take over a restaurant on a day when it was closed to make and serve a breakfast. Her husband initially, though reluctantly, agreed to help her, but then immediately undermined her by slowing down all he did and by then walking out, leaving her with a drastic need to make up the time to serve the long waiting customers. The younger student made a dinner for her parents (for her a milestone) but her frowning and sarcastic mother fired jibes at her, including a question presented as a statement "If I don't like it do I have eat it?" In both cases, however, others came to the support of the students. The restaurant owner and customers gave the older student great accolades on the taste, preparation and uniqueness of the breakfast. The young mother's father, and eventually her mother, told her how unbelievably wonderfully the meal was prepared. And her mother admitted that it had been better than she could have done. The emotional uplift felt by these 'student-chef's' from those who did support them was heart wrenching and is a lesson for all of us.
There is certainly a spiritual connection in giving support to others. In the book of Genesis, after slaying his brother Abel, Cain responds to God's inquiry about Abel by saying: "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gn 4: 9). Obviously the answer is yes. In Islam there is a tradition that those who have been blessed by God have an obligation to use those blessings to help others."i Buddhism emphasizes helpfulness to others as viewing self as brother: "I am my brother."ii
And this can even be done in small ways if we become open to the opportunities, like thanking a store clerk by name (they have name badges) and noticing the help given by the bagger; looking directly at a homeless person when giving some food, seeing them as persons. As the book of Proverbs reminds us: "To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!" (15:23). Sometimes just an encouraging smile is as good as a supportive word.
In Christian Sacred Scripture, St. Paul tells the Romans "to keep the things that are for the edification of one another." (14: 19) This would mean that we would want to uplift one another and certainly not put stumbling blocks of denigration and discouragement in their way. Likewise, St. Paul tells the Hebrews (10: 24): ". . .let us consider one another to provoke unto charity and unto good works." Our Eastern Church Father St. Isaac the Syrian makes quite explicit the meaning and high value of these words: "For the help given . . .how they help us by a word in the time of necessity or offer up in prayer in our behalf."iii
ii Ross, N.W. (1980). Buddhism: Way of Life & Thought. NY: Vintage Books.
iii Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (ed., trans.). (2011). The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (revised, 2nd edition). Boston, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (p.233)