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Mental Nearsightedness

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For nearsighted people, seeing long distances is a difficult and sometimes impossible task. They can not see farther than a few feet in front of them, and so their line of vision, as well as their potential to accomplish certain goals, is often limited. While only a small number of the population deals with physical nearsightedness, almost the entire teenage population possesses nearsightedness in another way.

As teenagers, we have the reputation of being self-centered, putting forth effort only when the results benefit us, thinking only about ourselves, and believing that the world revolves around our every move. We suffer from mental nearsightedness. Rarely thinking of others, we focus so much on ourselves and our lives and our decisions and our problems that we fail to see or even care about what is going on around us. When I raise money for various fundraisers or organizations that send money to Africa, I always hear a response from my peers similar to “Why should I? It is just Africa.” Yes, you are right. It is just Africa. It is just an entire continent full of starving people who are too sick or too young to find a job to break them from the endless cycle of poverty. It is just an entire continent of children who have no control over whether or not they are born into a family dying of AIDS. But just because a teenager is not personally or directly involved, he is unwilling to “sacrifice” a few bucks for someone in need. How much will three dollars really buy you today anyway? Four packs of gum? Two cokes from the vending machines at school? Maybe even a Starbucks drink if you buy plain, unsweetened, room temperature tea. But of course, your daily dose of caffeine or your White Chocolate Raspberry Mocha just cannot be sacrificed for something as “insignificant” as food for a child in another country. No matter that the three dollars could have fed and clothed an African child for three days. No matter that the money could have sent a day’s worth of medical supplies to a third-world disease-stricken region. No matter that the money could have bought a pair of socks for the homeless man living downtown. No. You had to have that Caramel Frappuccino that serves no purpose but supply hundreds of excess calories and satisfy a temporary craving.

Another response I often hear when collecting money is, “Why bother trying? You could never erase hunger or poverty completely.” The story of a young boy walking along a starfish covered beach would have a simple answer for the ignorant people who ask these questions. The boy knows that the millions of starfish blanketing the beach will soon dry up in the sun, so he bends down, picks one up, and tosses it back into the ocean. He repeats these steps over and over, throwing starfish back into the water over and over. A man sees the boy along the beach and sits to watch him work. After hours of bending and tossing and bending and tossing, the man, seeing no dent in the number of starfish covering the beach, saunters to the boy and chides “Why don’t you stop, kid? You’ll never be able to get them all! You’re not making any difference!” The boy looks at the man, then turns to the beach and sees what little improvement he appears to have made. Then he picks up another starfish and throws it back into the ocean. “It made a difference to that one,” he replies as he bends to pick up another. If more teenagers today would have the same mentality that this young boy does, the problems in the world would be significantly less. No, one person cannot change the whole world by himself. But one person can change a small part of the world by himself. If each person contributes a small part, a lasting impact can and will be made.

I am not asking you to become a full-time missionary. I am not asking you to start a soup kitchen in downtown Atlanta. I am not asking you to give up Starbucks, for I myself often splurge on the delectable tastes that Starbucks offers. I am simply asking you to take the time to notice others and look beyond your own selfish world. “Don’t think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others too, and what they are doing.” Simple, random acts of kindness take little to no effort at all. Hold the door open for the person behind you. Help a woman carry her heavy bags of groceries to the car. Give your old clothes to Goodwill instead of just throwing them away. Get with friends and donate a few dollars a month to sponsor a child in another country. I know you have all seen the commercials that depict a run-down trashy street with barefoot dirty kids running around a man who encourages you to “Pick up the phone now and call to sponsor a child. Save a life.” As cliché and annoying as those commercials may be, the scenes they depict are true. And the way to eliminate those heartbreaking scenes is easy. A group of my friends have joined together and now sponsor a little girl from Nicaragua. They send $30 a month to Compassion International, the organization that helps to find sponsors for children all around the globe. Thirty dollars may seem like a lot, but between the six of them, the cost is only $5 a month. That would be like saving $1.25 a week or giving up one coke one day each week. It is not that hard, is it?
If you do not want to give money, there are countless other ways to help. Giving up time is another easy way for youth today to serve others. Work in a soup kitchen once or twice. Sort clothes in thrift stores or homeless shelters. Go on a mission trip in the summer. I have been on two mission trips, and I know the impact they make. When I went to Chicago two summers ago, one of our tasks one day was to make 10-15 sack lunches and hand them out to the homeless people in the city. From that experience, I learned even just taking the time to talk with people can have an impact on their lives and mine. One man proved this statement through his definition of love: We handed him one of the brown paper bags with a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and a bag of chips, but he gave us a bitter, disgusted look as he took it. He asked us why we were handing out lunches, and we replied that we wanted to show love to the people of Chicago who maybe did not get very much. He asked us to sit and talk with him while he ate, and we did. His name was Henry and he told us about how he had become homeless because of an injury at work, about the things he faced on the streets, about how people avoided looking him in the eye, and how they pretended he did not exist. We talked with Henry for a long time. As we got up to leave, he held up the empty and crumpled bag. “This isn’t love.” He said. “This is love.” He emphasized as he gestured between himself and my group, implying that real conversation and acknowledging his existence was what love really is. We did not give Henry a one thousand dollar check. We did not find him a home or buy him warmer clothes. We gave him a sandwich and 2 hours of our time. Noticing others and becoming less involved in your own affairs helps you grasp a better understanding of the world, and it can require as much as your year’s pay or as little as 30 minutes of your time. By refusing to eliminate the blinding mental nearsightedness in yourself, you risk overlooking the sunset that could inspire the next “Starry Night” or chance missing the soft melody of midnight crickets that could inspire the next “Concerto No. 5”.

Therefore, I urge you to follow the apostle Paul’s advice and offer yourselves as living sacrifices. By putting on the spectacles of selflessness and humility, your eyes are opened to a world far greater than your own. You will see people in a new light. You will experience a joy and contentment within your own life that you have never known. You will acknowledge deeper issues that would have never been noticed had you not chosen to take down the mirror you have placed in front of yourself. You will notice the simpler things in life and appreciate them more. Enervate the growing reputation you have as a selfish generation and start to see the world that does not exist merely for you. A life has more meaning when it has a purpose beyond itself. And this life is the only one you get. This is not rehearsal. This is not practice. You get one life. Do something.





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