July 9, 2015 admin

PURPOSE: A Jolt From Smug to Giving

by Zaf Iqbal

Age 69. San Luis Obispo, CA

I came to the U.S. in 1964, after I graduated from high school in Pakistan. I had no family or friends in the U.S. I worked my way through schools, receiving B.S. in Accounting from University of Nevada-Reno, MBA from Northern Illinois University and PhD from University of Nebraska-Lincoln. After receiving PhD, I started teaching at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly). When I retired from Cal Poly in 2006, I was a full professor, had served as chair of accounting department, and as associate dean of college of business…

My wife and I have been married for over 43 years. We live in the country club area in a beautiful house with a large garden. Our house and the garden have been featured in the local newspaper three different times. By any standard, we have a comfortable life, free of any financial worries.

For a moment I stopped and looked at our elegant house and the beautiful garden. I felt smug and proud.


About five years ago, my wife was visiting her brother and his family in Maryland. During her absence, one day I was working in our garden. For a moment I stopped and looked at our elegant house and the beautiful garden. I felt smug and proud. I told myself that I had been able to achieve all that through my own hard work and I am not obligated to anyone for all my successes. It is all due to my own efforts.

Suddenly a thought came into my mind: There are hundreds of million and perhaps billions of people in the world who are smarter than I am and work harder than I have ever done, and they work under harsh conditions. Yet, many of them go to bed at night hungry. I experienced a jolt. I no longer  felt smug and proud, instead I became very depressed. I started questioning myself how could have all that I do while those people live such a miserable life. Images of the workers I had seen in the Middle Eastern countries flashed in my mind. All of those workers were imported from poor countries  like Bangladesh, Philippine, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. I remember skinny people working on construction projects, lifting and carrying heavy loads exposed to the sun while the temperature was 112-120 degrees. And even though they were working in oil rich countries, they were very poorly paid and had to live in camps outside towns which were literally slums. They were bused-in to work in the morning and then taken back to the camps in the evening. They were treated like slaves. They were there because it was better than being unemployed back home. The more I thought about it, the more depressed I became. It went on for days. I felt guilty that I had so much while more deserving people had next to nothing. I had no basis to believe that I have earned, what I have, solely due to my work.

 

***

One day, I ran into a friend of mine who is a retired computer science professor. “How are you?” he asked me. I asked him if he wanted me to give the customary answer or the truthful answer. He wanted the latter. I summed up my condition in two words, “Very depressed.” And then I told him why I felt the way I did. He said that I had no reason to feel guilty or depressed about the misery that inflicts so many people in the world. He asked me if I had acquired any ill gains? Had I succeeded through immoral and unethical means? Had I defrauded others or was dishonest just to get ahead? I told him no; I accomplished what I did with integrity and hard work. He said that then instead of feeling the way I do I could do something else: I could help as many people, who are in need, as I could. “Listen, there is no way you can make everyone’s life better, but you can make a difference in the lives of some.” This was like a revelation and transformed my life forever.

“Listen, there is no way you can make everyone’s life better, but you can make a difference in the lives of some.”


Now I am involved in many volunteer activities. Some of those are Hospice, working with disadvantaged children, providing transportation to elderly and/or disabled people to doctor appointments, grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. I volunteer in a program that provides the opportunity to do house chores for frail, sick or disabled people like washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming floors, buying groceries or doing their laundry.

I have never felt happier in my life and my mind is at total peace. My wife is also actively engaged in volunteer activities. In addition, we financially support six charitable organizations that are doing vitally important work to help the disadvantaged in the community, e.g., food bank and homeless shelter.

I would say that we are not giving but receiving. And what we are receiving is so precious that all the money in the world cannot buy it. We are receiving the satisfaction that we are making positive difference in many lives. We are truly blessed.

 

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