Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
We know that the world needs more compassion, more caring, more helping, more empowering. Part of this might be achieved by simply having less assholes, but the reality is it needs, not just people not doing wrong, but people doing right. And we see it done by people doing great acts of goodness like those who set up shelters and soup kitchens for the needy, and those who help people get back on their feet, those who open up their borders to refugees, for example. But when we see these acts, we end up thinking what can I do when it’s just me?
So the internet says that one man can change the world, that one simple action can save a live. And it all sounds great in theory, yet we end up feeling that we can’t have such an impact in the world, because it’s just us and the world needs a lot of help. We end up doing nothing theory isn’t the same as reality. Can one man do something to help his fellow men with something as simple as a small act of compassion?
Let me tell you about Don Ritchie and “the Gap.”
The Gap is a cliff at Watsons Bay in Australia. Its fame grew, not because of the natural beauty, but because it became a place where, about once a week, someone would go there end their lives. The local authorities tried to deal with the situation by installing security cameras, Lifeline counselling booths, information boards to help organizations, and even a fence to keep people from leaping to their deaths. In most cases, these deterrents did little to solve the problem. There was one thing that did help.
A man armed compassion and a cup of tea.
Don Ritchie, a WWII Naval Veteran and retired insurance agent, lived about 50 meters from the notorious suicide spot since 1964. By 2009, the official tally of people he saved from ending their lives was 164 but at the time of his death in 2012, his close friends actually place that number around 500. For that reason he earned the nickname the “Angel of The Gap.”
Every time he saw a would-be jumper, he would walk up and ask “Is there something I could do to help you?” and promised them a cup of hot tea in his home. Most of these people just needed someone to talk to, someone who listened to them, someone who cares. Ritchie explained his intervention in suicide attempts saying "you can't just sit there and watch them."
“It's important for troubled people to know that there are complete strangers out there, like myself, who are willing and able to help them get through that dark time and to come out on the other side."
During an interview, he explained that he wasn’t haunted by the thoughts of those he couldn’t save. He accepts that there was nothing more he could have done. Instead he focuses his thoughts on those he could save. The most amazing thing about this man is how he kept his own optimism and hope alive while carrying his own battle against cancer for the last few years of his life. When asked what would happen when he was no longer around, the same optimism that guides his compassion shined through as he hopes that “someone else will come along and do what I’ve been doing.”
The reality of a compassionate life isn’t measured by those you couldn’t save, but by those you did. It’s not measured by that huge gesture that went viral, but by all those small acts of kindness. It’s not measured by how much fame you gain, but how many you impact in a small way, every day.
Ok, yes. The world needs less assholes as well.