The huge 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan and the still unfolding consequences of tsunamis rolling to shores all over the world are just the latest reminders of our vulnerability to unpredictable, unavoidable, massive natural disasters.
In 2004, more than 200,000 people (mostly Indonesians) died in an Indian Ocean tsunami. A year later, an earthquake in Pakistan killed about 80,000. Last year, hundreds of thousands died in Haiti from still another earthquake.
After each calamity, the world’s media drenches us in images and stories about the costs of Mother Nature’s wrath, motivating millions of people to donate money and thousands to volunteer time to do whatever they can to help. Thus, from these heartwrenching stories come hundreds of heartwarming ones about the kindness and generosity of the best of our species.
Every day our safety and comfort depends on the services of an army of government workers: police, firefighters, bus drivers, water and sanitation officials, and many more.
But in a world continually ripped by massive calamities, we also need an auxiliary corps of volunteers, ordinary citizens who willingly undergo discomfort and danger to help fellow human beings.
Volunteers are special people with a highly developed sense of responsibility. While pessimists and optimists argue whether a glass is half-empty or half-full, the volunteer sees a glass of water and starts looking for someone who might be thirsty.
Lots of truly great people, including Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Helen Keller, Albert Einstein, and Mother Teresa, have told us that the surest and most worthy road to happiness is service.
Let’s take a break from a steady diet of celebrity sex and drug scandals to acknowledge and praise the volunteers who take that road and wish them the happiness they deserve.
This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.
* Southern Californians: check out BigSunday.org for volunteer opportunities.