Above: Image from the Underdog cartoon. [Source]
I have always believed in supporting the underdog. Perhaps I have identified too much with the David and Goliath story or maybe it is because in many ways I have often been the underdog. For whatever reason, I gravitate towards those who need more help, to goals that seem unattainable and to dreams that are way too far fetched. By seeking and embracing the underdog in myself and others I have learned the power that supporting the underdog brings.
In this day and age where fantasies are computer generated, where daydreaming is considered a symptom of ADHD, and where we fear to let our children wander, or wonder, the underdog is often not allowed to exist or certainly not worthy of our time. This translates into a culture where compassion and empathy are considered weaknesses to be replaced with competition and avarice.
Recently we literally adopted an underdog from the animal shelter. I chose her specifically because she is heartworm positive. Although her condition is treatable, she will require a sacrifice of time and money. We will have to be patient for months, keeping her calm and rested, while the medicine kills the worms. She can not get exerted during that time so that means no running around, no playing, just rest.
At first my son was very disappointed in the dog I chose because it meant that he would not be able to play with her as he wanted. But I explained that we were in a position to take her, to give her a chance at a happy life she might not otherwise get. She was a year old and had spent most of her life on the streets. With her condition, she might never get adopted.
I made a choice, a compassionate choice, to pick the unlikely dog, the underdog as it were. Not only was I able to help her but I also was teaching my children the benefits of compassion. What people often don’t realize is that the act of compassion can also be a selfish one. Children are naturally selfish, they are born to consider themselves first. It is nature’s way. But we grow up being told that selfish is bad. It is bad to not consider others of course, but for me, adopting Lulu, was selfish because it gave me the greatest pleasure to help the dog most unlikely to get picked.
People that are naturally altruistic know this. They help others but the pleasure they receive from the help is so great that in many ways they are motivated by their self-satisfaction. Imagine what type of world we would live in if more people felt this way. Instead of seeing the poor, the downtrodden, as an eyesore, a blight, they would see the opportunity to help and thereby experience the pleasure of giving. If you have ever volunteered at a soup kitchen during Thanksgiving then you know the true meaning of that holiday.
As a culture we are fascinated with people who give tremendously to others. That is why shows like Undercover Boss or Extreme Home Makeover are so popular. We love to see people being helped, we are inspired and motivated, but rarely stirred into action. It is one thing to celebrate the charity of others but it is another things to do it ourselves.
If, instead of thinking of charity, we instead thought of betting on the long shot and supporting the underdog, it might be easier to take action. For me, I consider it a challenge to support the underdog — challenges are far more interesting than safe bets. The steps can be small at first— recognize opportunities to help make it easier for others. You can let the car enter in front of you in busy traffic, you can open the door for the person overloaded with bags, you can sweep the neighbor’s sidewalk as well as your own.
Little changes can lead to bigger ones but they don’t all have to be acts of kindness or charity. Sometimes it is just supporting local businesses over national chains, moving to a neighborhood that needs positive growth. There are many ways you can support the ‘underdog’. For example, when choosing the Boy Scout troop my son was going to transfer to, we had the choice between an established troop with lots of members, equipment and resources or a new troop that was just getting started. We chose the latter. Not only are we helping to grow the troop, my son has an opportunity to be a founding member versus just one of many.
So whenever possible the underdog, the less fortunate, the riskier move, instead of the safe, secure, and proven true. All the great inventors came up with their ideas by considering the impossible. All the great benefactors saw the joy in a helping hand.