Many claim to help others, few really do. Help is often offered to gain favor or to be seen in a favorable light, but not for my brother and I. We owe a debt and helping is our own currency. Despite unfortunate childhoods, we overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles; using our only resources, intellect and resiliency. Although burdened by painful memories and disadvantage, we reach out to those in need sometimes at great cost to us personally and professionally.
Like weary veterans, few “civilians” relate to our shared experiences. Yet, such experiences enable us to assist but not judge. Even a couple of agnostics understand the truth behind Bradford’s (circa 1510-1550) “There but for the grace of God, go I.” Without the benevolence of a few people along the way, either of us could have ended up swinging from the proverbial gallows. We help because we were helped; it is our birthright. Altruism does not absolve us from our flaws but it does yield a small degree of atonement.
Our altruism has ugly but compelling origins. Below is the house that my mother and brother lived in while I was an undergraduate and my brother was in high school. Living in yet another tattered and barely inhabitable house were the least of my brother’s worries. He was subjected to abuse, abandonment, and ridicule during a time that was supposed to be looked upon fondly. Literally on the “wrong side of the tracks” in South St. Paul, Steven’s existence was dismal.
My visits from college were obligatory, unsuccessful attempts to rid myself of guilt for no longer having to experience a life-like his. Lacking the monetary and emotional resources to help him, I felt powerless but committed to giving him a better life as soon as I was capable. When I got my first professorship, I was able to do just that. For me I was paying a long overdue debt, for him it was much more. I gave him almost nothing, just a place to live. Thrown out of his “home’ with a doubtful future and few possessions, he made the long trek to Arkansas on a Greyhound bus. I remember seeing him get off the bus dressed in worn ill-fitting clothing, his head bowed clearly hurting and ashamed. He tells people that I saved his life that day. That is not true. He saved his own life and he allowed me to be a part of it. He refused to quit and he took on the world.
Today Boogie2988 helps millions of people daily. Followed by over 4 million subscribers, he is more than paying it forward. He performs a public service in a way that only someone with our background could ever do. His reach is vast, he touches the lives of countless views daily. His viewers even seek me out to inform me just how import Steven has been to them. I often get messages like this one:
Academics like myself rarely see the real world benefits of their work on individuals. If we achieve a 1,000 citations our university gives us a hiprestigious award because of the rarity of such an accomplishment. Steven reaches exponentially more people in just one live stream, giving him a powerful way to pay back his and even my debt.