Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


There But For The Grace

The Table, First Presbyterian Church, Napa, California, USA

June 15, 2017



"There are only two things in the world: nothing, and semantics."  ... 
This essay, There But For The Grace, is the companion piece to Zen Of Peeling Potatoes.



I love assisting. Assisting's cardinal rule is "Get more out of assisting than you put in.". Wait! Can that really work? When you assist, don't you have to put more into assisting than you get out of it? Actually "Get more out of assisting than you put in" isn't a difficult rule to follow if you assist - I mean if you really  assist. You always get more out of assisting than you put in. It goes with the territory. That's just the way it is with assisting. As I said, I love assisting. But I don't like helping. So the questions arise "If I don't like helping, can I ever serve?", and "If I don't like helping, am I not insular? isolated? uncaring? selfish?", and "What's the difference?".

The difference between helping and assisting isn't a trivial one. It's critical to differentiate between the two. And we're thrown to think "Helping shmelping  / assisting: that's just playing with semantics  Laurence! There's no difference.". But listen: it's all  semantics, and there is  a critical difference. The way we language what we do, is the way we set the context for what we do, and the way we set the context for what we do, impacts the outcome of what we do, especially its degree of workability and satisfaction. So what then is  the critical difference between helping and assisting?

My sense of what helping is, is this: it's offering my support to make something work that isn't working, to participate in fixing something that's broken, to make something right that's wrong, to complete something that's incomplete. There's nothing amiss with helping. Just notice the overall context  of helping, is something's incomplete, not working, not yet right, and I'm trying to fix it. Even more than that: that's what I'm moving towards  when I'm helping. The opportunity of assisting on the other hand, is bringing my already alrightness  (if you will) to the situation, to participate fully and wholly while bringing forth who I really am as a gift. The overall context of assisting is completion, workability, being already alright, contribution. That's where I'm coming from  (not moving towards) when I'm assisting.

With that in place as the background, I'm assisting on a local team preparing and serving a sit-down meal for the homeless people of our village. The context for this team, is not "helping". I'm not helping the team, the team isn't helping the homeless, and I'm certainly not helping the homeless (and if I were, it would insult and demean both the team and the homeless). When we assist like this, there aren't two  groups of people. There's not we  the preparers, and they  the homeless. There's only one: humanity. We're all just people. I am no different than them (actually I used  to be different, now I am the same  - to re-create a vintage Erhard distinction). That's the context within which any real contribution is made. It's more than that actually: it's that it's impossible for me to make a difference if I'm coming from a place which regards the human beings they  are, as in some way qualitatively  different than the human beings we  are / I am.

I'm wearing an apron, standing at a kitchen counter slicing zucchini and squash, then adding shredded cauliflower and carrots for a baked dish. Others around me are preparing fruit and pasta. And more are preparing (it looks like) a fish dish. The background soundtrack is given by a CD of golden oldies, along with which everyone is singing lustily (I think I'm doing a pretty good rendition of Frankie Valli's falsetto). Some preparers are dancing in place as they slice and dice. The joy is palpable.

"Would you like some more?" I ask a diner. Surprised anyone's asking, he requests another cup of milk which I get for him, wondering where you shower when you're homeless (I'm trying to imagine what I'd do in that situation). I flinch at how bizarre it is that we, the great United States of America, have homelessness at all, given we spent $1.6 trillion*  on the Iraq / Afghanistan wars from 2001 to 2014 to dubious effect, a fraction  of which would've eliminated our homeless problem entirely.


* Citation: Politifact, Congressional Research Service


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