President Teddy Roosevelt on Civic Helpfulness

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We've been looking into the concept of "helpfulness". Here's an item we found that you may like: "Civic Helpfulness", an essay by ... wait for it ... President Teddy Roosevelt!

Here's the PDF:

Here's an audio version, in case you'd enjoy hearing it aloud:

  • [And now for some salient quotations:]

[I]n the country districts the quality of self-help is very highly developed and there is little use for the great organized charities. Neighbors know one another. The poorest and the richest are more or less in touch, and charitable feelings find a natural and simple expression in the homely methods of performing charitable duties.

  • [Wow! See the power of simple helpfulness! Just by having an attitude of helpfulness widely disseminated throughout a population, and they put it into practice--it's not just an attitude, but it's active--the need for charities and government programs can be significantly reduced. What a revolutionary force could be unleashed by promoting and getting people to embrace and practice helpfulness!]
  • [In the following bit, the President gives an example of a helpful person. It stands out because of its relevance to today's problems in police-community relations:]

Very early in my career as a police commissioner of the city of New York I was brought in contact with Father Casserly of the Paulist Fathers. After he had made up his mind that I was really trying to get things decent in the department, and to see that law and order prevailed, and that crime and vice were warred against in practical fashion, he became very intimate with me, helping me in every way, and unconsciously giving me an insight into his own work and his own character. Continually, at one point and another, I came across what Father Casserly was doing, always in the way of showing the intense human sympathy and interest he was taking in the lives about him. If one of the boys of a family was wild, it was Father Casserly who planned methods of steadying him. If, on the other hand, a steady boy met with some misfortune,--lost his place, or something of the kind,--it was Father Casserly who went and stated the facts to the employer. The Paulist Fathers had always been among the most efficient foes of the abuses of the liquor traflic. They never hesitated to interfere with saloons, dance-houses, and the like. One secret of their influence with our Police Board was that, as they continually went about among their people and knew them all, and as they were entirely disinterested, they could be trusted to tell who did right and who did wrong among the instruments of the law. One of the perplexing matters in dealing with policemen is that, as they are always in hostile contact with criminals and would-be criminals, who are sure to lie about them, it is next to impossible to tell when accusations against them are false and when they are true; for the good man who does his duty is certain to have scoundrelly foes, and the bad man who blackmails these same scoundrels usually has nothing but the same evidence against him. But Father Casserly and the rest of his order knew the policemen personally, and we found we could trust them implicitly to tell exactly who was good and who was not. Whether the man were Protestant, Catholic, or Jew, if he was a faithful public servant they would so report him; and if he was unfaithful he would be reported as such wholly without regard to his creed. We had this experience with an honorably large number of priests and clergymen.

  • [Note the personal aspect. Father Casserly "knew the policemen personally," which gave him the same advantages we hope to create as Community Connectors. We don't just make online connections, we make REAL connections.]
  • [Here's a word about diversity:]

Among our other close friends was another preacher, who had once been a reporter, but who had felt stirred by an irresistible impulse to leave his profession and devote his life to the East Side, where he ministered to the wants of those who would not go to the fashionable churches, and for whom no other church was especially prepared. In connection with his work, one of the things that was particularly pleasing was the way in which he had gone in not only with the rest of the Protestant clergy and the non-sectarian philanthropic workers of the district, but with the Catholic clergy, joining hands in the fight against the seething evils of the slum.

  • [Helpfulness begins at home, but it must not end there! Community Connectors have to work with all sorts of different folks. It's not a job for people who only want to associate with like-minded people.]

Undoubtedly the best type of philanthropic work is that which helps men and women who are willing and able to help themselves; for fundamentally this aid is simply what each of us should be all the time both giving and receiving. Every man and woman in the land ought to prize above almost every other quality the capacity for self-help; and yet every man and woman in the land will at some time or other be sorely in need of the help of others, and at some time or other will find that he or she can in turn give help even to the strongest. The quality of self-help is so splendid a quality that nothing can compensate for its loss.

  • [It seems as true today as it did then: Nothing can make up for a scarcity of helpfulness! Note the motivation, too: You yourself are going to need help sometime!]

Now and then the strongest may be in need of aid, and that for this reason alone, if for no other, the strong should always be glad of the chance in turn to aid the weak.

  • [Helpfulness could also be called "gladness to aid". You can see that President Roosevelt would be happy to see us promoting civic helpfulness!]