How to be Good

Brought three books with me to Germany. Finished them within a few weeks. Watched way too many TV shows. Found city library, located English section. Came away with four novels to read over the next month. Scrumptious. Oddly enough, the first one I chose, How to be Good by the clever and hilarious Nick Hornby, actually ties in well with this whole simplicity thing.

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Synopsis from back of book:

Katie Carr, doctor (and self-declared ‘good person’), has just had an affair. It’s not really her fault–she is, after all, married to David: angry, cynical, negative (though undeniably funny) and a real pain to live with. But then David meets DJ GoodNews, astonishingly effective faith healer and do-gooder of the unbearably smug kind. And now David is good. Too good, actually–‘a liberal’s worst nightmare’, he starts to put theory into practice, giving away all their kids’ toys, reaching out to the hopeless and homeless in a very personal and, for Katie, disturbing way. It seems to her that if charity begins at home, it may be time to move…

I’m about halfway through, and one of the story’s many poignant observations is the fact that so many of us live with way more than we really need–extra computers and TVs, multiple cars, spare rooms, etc.–when there are people who have very little or none of those things a few blocks or miles away. Why not put these ‘extras’ to better use and give them to someone who really needs them? In the book, David starts a campaign on his own street where he invites all his neighbors to have a homeless person live in their spare bedrooms for one year. It’s extreme, but it’s actually pretty logical. You don’t need it, someone else does, give it to them.

So my questions today: How can we help people in need during this process of simplifying our lives? Do we really need that extra car, TV, coat, microwave, computer, bed, set of sheets, bike…… bedroom? Do you know or have you heard about someone who could benefit from something you own? Ask around. Search Craigslist ‘wanted’ ads. Contact local shelters and charities. Start small today and give away some things you don’t use much anyway. Then raise the stakes and give away something you love but could live without. You never know what it may mean to someone else. Instead of thinking in terms of losing your belongings, if that makes you nervous, it might help to think in terms of how many ways you can improves the lives of others.

A few quotes from the book:

“It seems to me now that the plain state of being human is dramatic enough for anyone; you don’t need to be a heroin addict or a performance poet to experience extremity. You just have to love someone.”

“We don’t care enough. We look after ourselves and ignore the weak and the poor. We despise our politicians for doing nothing, and think that this is somehow enough to show we care, and meanwhile we live in centrally heated houses that are too big for us… We have a spare bedroom, and a study, and meanwhile people are sleeping outside on pavements. We scrape perfectly edible food into our compost maker, and meanwhile people at the end of our road are begging for the price of a cup of tea and a bag of chips.”

“Sometimes we have to be judged by our one-offs.”

“Love, it turns out, is as undemocratic as money, so it accumulates around people who have plenty of it already.”