Last fall, I saw a few articles online about how some window washers who serviced a local children’s hospital came up with the idea of donning costumes of superheroes like Spider-Man and Captain America and going to work that way. Their management approved of the idea and they did it intending it just as a one-time thing. But the response from the children, their parents and their medical caretakers was so overwhelmingly positive that they made it a recurring ritual.
I don’t know which window washing company was first with this idea but now it has spread across the U.S., further proving the power of viral sharing on social networks to turn a small idea into a big one. Numerous children’s hospitals have begun asking for it from their window service providers after hearing or reading about such occurrences at other hospitals. As a result, window washing companies across the country now offer the service.
Today, I’d like to take a moment to talk about two important life lessons that these window washers, and the children whom they are servicing, remind us of.
Lesson #1: Do What You Can, Right Here And Now
Many people genuinely want to do some real good in this world but get caught in one of two traps of thinking:
(A) They feel that they can’t do any real, tangible good unless or until they have vast resources, namely money. This common belief is reinforced by the fact that the stories that get the most attention are the ones of mega-rich or famous philanthropists donating thousands or millions of dollars to a charity or cause.
(B) They feel that, in order to do good, they have to go somewhere outside of their immediate environment: a homeless shelter, a youth center or, in more extreme cases, a blighted war zone or starving third-world community. Again, this belief is often perpetuated by dramatic media images of aid being given to areas and communities suffering from a natural disaster, famine or political conflict.
There’s nothing wrong with rich people doing philanthropy nor with more dramatic forms of service to humanity. There’s a definite, urgent need for both and the world is surely grateful to those who are able to do them.
But when people feel that they can’t be of any genuine service unless they are able to do one of the two things above, this leads to a sense of disempowerment and even, eventually, to apathy which serves as a kind of psychological defense mechanism. Not caring is a lot easier than feeling bad or inadequate.
What these superhero window washers around the country are reminding us is that it doesn’t take much, in fact, to do good. Nor do you have to travel far and wide. You can do good right now, right where you are. All it takes is a little thinking and creativity.
Beyond the time and effort it takes to procure their costumes, these window washers aren’t particularly going out of their way. They’re not volunteering during their off hours or going anywhere beyond their normal sphere of activity. The good that they’re doing has been seamlessly integrated into their ordinary, day-to-day jobs.
Our jobs are the easiest and most logical place to integrate goodwill and service to humanity because we spend most of our lives at the workplace.
The wonderful thing is that it’s possible to integrate service to your fellow human no matter what your job is, and there are an infinite number of ways to do so. It doesn’t mean you have to put on superhero outfits or anything remotely as dramatic, nor do you have to do anything that runs contrary to your personality type.
It could just mean something so easy and small as bringing homemade cookies baked with love to the office; giving flowers for no reason to your receptionists or assistants (if you have any); letting your employees go home early on a Friday with your blessings; just being kind to your co-workers or clients in some way that goes slightly beyond business as usual; anything and everything that brings joy to people in some way or makes them feel good, appreciated or even loved.
Cynics might say that such a thing is so ephemeral and tiny, so what real, lasting good could it possibly do? True, such things don’t appear to be much but the collective difference that they make, over time, should not be underestimated. Moreover, they’re a lot more realistic and feasible, most of the time, for many people.
It helps to remember that everything is so intimately interconnected in our world that whatever good you can do even in just your daily life will contribute to the grand scheme of things in some way, even if your mind can’t quite connect the dots or see the big picture. The philosophies of Vedanta, Taoism and Buddhism have known this for centuries. And science has been opening our myopic eyes with ever-increasing evidence for the idea of mutual interdependence, an interdependence that permeates our world at all levels both physical and psychological.
I don’t think that everyone must feel innately obligated to do service to his fellow man. Some people may feel that just doing their work competently, making money and contributing to the economy is service enough. But if you do have this desire to do a little something more, then it empowers you to adopt the belief and attitude that you can do great things from within just your daily routines, starting right this instant.
You don’t necessarily have to spend much money nor energy, necessarily. You don’t have to sacrifice too much of your personal time. All you have to do is be creative and never underestimate the power of small things to make a difference over time.
Lesson #2: Take Your Mind Off What Ails You
By bringing a little sunshine into the days of children who are sick, our window-washing superheroes are actually aiding in the process of those children’s recovery.
It’s true. More and more doctors, psychologists and medical researchers are unearthing growing evidence for the validity of the proverbial mind-body connection. All you’ve got to do is do a search for “mind body connection” on Google to bring up loads of links and articles from mainstream medical and scientific sources.
In a nutshell, dwelling on pain and illness tends to trigger negative thoughts and feelings which then go on further to depress our immune system and other processes in the body that are constrained or overworked enough already.
Positive thinking may be ideal but sometimes it’s just too herculean a feat to suddenly go from wanting to be put out of one’s misery, for instance, to feeling chipper and upbeat. At such times, even just temporarily taking one’s mind off the immediate trouble can be helpful. The body is amazingly resilient if given just half a chance, and refraining from over-thinking yourself into a negative spiral can be that half-chance. (I’m speaking from personal experience here just as much as from secondhand research and reading.)
The administrators of these children’s hospitals recognize this, which is why our superhero window-washers have been becoming a trend. The following is a quote from an article on the ABC News website:
“It’s a real thing,” hospital spokeswoman Sara Burnett said of the use of out-of-the-box therapies like this one to help kids heal. “When a child’s mind gets off their pain and their sickness, it makes them heal, it makes them relax and it helps them recover and get better quicker.”
Here’s where I add in my two cents: I believe that this principle goes beyond the sphere of health and applies to just about any life problem.
By this, I don’t mean escapism or avoiding the problem. Certainly, when confronted by a problem, we should do everything we possibly can to solve it. We need to do our homework and do hard research if necessary. We need to devise plans and take concrete actions steps that will slowly but surely solve the problem.
But once we’ve done that, we need to let go. There comes a point at which we’ve done, and are doing, everything we can. Beyond that, thinking about it any further when we’re not in a position to actually be able to do anything more simply becomes an unhealthy fixation. We may feel obliged to think about it more, or think that doing so is part of the effort of solving the problem, but this is actually counter-productive.
Just as a watched clock doesn’t move, a problem obsessed over doesn’t get solved by virtue of you dwelling on it endlessly. Just keep doing all the things you’re doing to accomplish your goal or solve your problem, but do it on mental auto-pilot, without burdening each action step with impatience and expectation. Periodically checking your progress and reassessing or modifying your actions, if necessary, is wise, yes. But you must also give your actions a chance to germinate and bear fruit and the best way you can do so is to go do or think about something else for a while.
This entire website, in fact, is me putting this idea into practice. Those who have read other posts may know that I suffer from a chronic illness. At one point, I was doing everything that I possibly could, for the moment, to get better. But I was becoming very frustrated and depressed by what felt like an absence of progress. Logically, I believed that I was making progress, but because I couldn’t feel it as quickly as I wanted to I became obsessive, spending virtually every free moment reading yet another article or book, scanning online forum discussions to find that secret method I just hadn’t found yet.
Realizing that all the stress created by my impatience was probably undermining my goal to get better, I needed a way to get my mind off it. To make a long story short, this blog – writing about myths, superheroes, fantasy and epic themes – basically became my way to get my mind at least partly off my illness and let my body do its job.
So thank you, window washers of America, for reminding us that we can all be superheroes in daily life and that it doesn’t take all that much to do so.
And thank you, children, for reminding us that sometimes holding on to a sense of wonder, innocence and fascination for all things magical can be just the remedy we need to take our minds off our troubles and give our problems a chance to work themselves out.