I spend a good amount of time online, so I see a lot of grim and dispiriting stories in the mainstream media or through social media, whether it’s international strife, some outrage committed in a state halfway across the country, or a study that suggests that in some way, shape or form, we are all doomed to one kind of looming catastrophe or another. It can all be a lot to take, which is probably why I am a total sucker for anything the Internet offers up that confirms my notion that people in general are a lot more generous, inspiring and wonderful than we lead ourselves to believe.
What am I talking about? Maybe this viral video of a little Icelandic girl running and hugging a foal will do it for you. Seriously, you will not see anything more heartwarming on the Internet than this. And you will need it, especially if you have read the story of Duke, a dog with cancer that must be put down. The story tells of Duke’s last day in the dog’s voice, and with pictures of Duke’s final hours with the people he loved and served as they gave him farewell hugs, played with him in the park one last time and let him eat all the hamburgers he wanted. Seriously, even a cat lover will shed a tear over it. It’s a great display of selfless love, of the heartbreak that so often goes with it, and the conviction that, yes, love is always worth the pain it brings.
On the more inspirational side, there’s the report that Mesut Ozil, a midfielder for the German national team that recently won the World Cup, donated the $400,000 he earned for his World Cup performance to various charity projects in Brazil. This would, among other things, fund surgeries needed by 23 poor children. Uplifting and inspiring, right? Not for everyone. There was a rumor that Ozil was going to donate that money to the people of the Gaza Strip, and when Ozil’s representatives quashed that rumor, suddenly Ozil became a villain to those who felt he was giving money to the wrong people. A guy wins a king’s ransom and donates it to the poor in the country where he won the money ... and he’s the bad guy? The Internet is a funny place.
And we tend to focus on that funniness, or on outright cruelty, don’t we? Stories of kids driven to suicide by cyberbullying always seem to make the rounds, as do tales of people being horrible to each other for the strangest of reasons, or for no reason at all. But it’s not all cruel. Recently, a man named Nathan Steffel lost his infant daughter Sophia at just six weeks, after Sophia suffered a hepatic hemangioma in her liver. Sophia lived her entire life hooked up to all kinds of medical tubes, and her grieving father asked the users of the online forum Reddit if somebody could edit a picture of Sophia so it didn’t have all the medical apparatus in it. He just wanted to see his daughter on her own. Now, Nathan took a pretty big chance here, as there are plenty of creeps who read Reddit. (It’s not nearly as bad there as, say, 4chan, but you get the idea.) Did a legion of those creeps come out and mock Steffel, or make cruel jokes at Sophia’s expense? No. They Photoshopped and drew a ton of different renditions of Sophia that showed off how beautiful she really was, all in an overwhelming act of Internet kindness.
This is the kind of spirit the life insurance business embraces every single day, performing not-so-random acts of kindness for friends, family and strangers alike. But the tradition of giving goes well beyond one’s clients. The generosity of the life insurance world in individual producers, carriers, and industrywide groups like the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation are more than ample proof of this community’s commitment to showcasing humanity at its best.
Sometimes, when I write an editorial like this, I get wonderful letters from producers who would like to make some kind of charitable effort, but don’t know where to start. I would suggest to start locally. Help the community you’re in. Help people you know, or who you might rub elbows with on a daily basis. Beyond that, see what you can do to help on a county, state or even national basis, either through the charitable efforts of a carrier you represent, or through an industrywide group like the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation. Failing that, you could always simply contribute to one of the many opportunities made available through independent fundraising efforts on the Internet itself.
At the risk of injecting too much of myself into my own story, I’ll note that a friend of mine, Amy Benson, is currently working in Sese, Botswana, a small village of deeply Christian people fighting against every major problem you can imagine a small African village having: crippling unemployment, alcoholism, HIV/AIDS ... the list goes on. Amy’s helping to raise funds for Sese’s Primary School to build a carpentry collective that will give the kids there some employable skills as well as the drive to seek and make their own opportunities in life. If you can’t find anywhere else to give a little extra, you could certainly do worse than here.
But in a way, I don’t need to draw attention to these kind of opportunities, really. The insurance industry has a history of rich and generous giving, and the billions it gives back to the communities it serves stands as a quiet testament to the heart and nobility of its professionals. Critics of insurance like to portray this industry as unfeeling at best and as predatory at worst. It’s not a perfect industry — none are — but there aren’t many that make such an effort to help people out of the kindness of its collective heart ... even after it’s spent its 9 to 5 doing pretty much the exact same thing. This industry really is one of the most powerful armies of random kindness ever assembled, and nobody ever seems to give it enough credit.
Well, let me be the one to start. I salute you all. Carry on. Please, carry on. The world needs you. And let’s not let my little article be a one-way conversation. I encourage all of you out there with a charitable cause to promote to use this forum as a way to give it some attention. Please feel free to link to your favorite cause in the comments section. Or, feel free to write to me directly and we’ll try to make mention of as many of these causes both on LifeHealthPro and in the pages of National Underwriter as we can.
Bill Coffin is the Director of Content, Communications and Media Relations for Starr Companies. He is a nationally recognized and award-winning business journalist and editorial director specializing in insurance and risk management. His work has appeared in National Underwriter, Claims, Risk Man... More