The Unsung Heroes

Comments 9
(Image by Ashley Ma.)
(Image by Ashley Ma.)

Is there such a thing as a truly unselfish act?

I don’t know. I also don’t care.

I’ll let the psych community and people smarter than me debate the merits of selfish and unselfish behavior in society.

If a human being performs an unselfish act that helps another person, and the helper did so out of self-interest in order to feel good or be perceived as unselfish, does that somehow lessen the good thing that happened as a result of their action?

I stumbled on this video a couple days ago. Thai Life Insurance made it about nine months ago (I’m a little late to the party.) I don’t mean to intentionally advertise for this insurance firm, but if you’re interested in getting more life insurance from Bangkok, knock yourself out, I guess.

It’s a touching video. I liked it. I watched it three times.

Here it is:


I work in marketing, and I feel this accomplishes what the best ads in the world have always accomplished: It made you feel something.

But more importantly, it got me thinking again about what we’re actually living for.

What do I really want?

People chase money and career success and social connection and travel and new experiences and nice cars and big houses and many other things.

That’s what many spend their lives pursuing. Trying to acquire or achieve as many things on their “I Want This” List as possible.

People do this because they want to feel good. They want to be happy.

Out of the Clear Blue Sky

That’s the name of a documentary I watched last night.

On Sept. 11, 2001, a jet exploded when bad men flew it into the upper floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. A large financial firm that oversaw the majority of U.S. bond trading at the time, Cantor Fitzgerald, had offices on the top five floors of that building.

Nearly 700 of the company’s employees—virtually everyone who had made it into the office that morning—died from the fire, or jumping out a window, or from the tower’s eventual collapse.

The company’s CEO—Howard Lutnick—wasn’t in the office at the time of the crash because he had taken his son to his first day of kindergarten.

Lutnick had EVERYTHING. The top job at a major financial firm. He was one of the most respected and feared men on Wall Street. He had a gorgeous wife and children. And more money then you could ever want.

It would seem he achieved the very best of all these things we’re programmed to chase in our lives. The things on our “I Want This” List.

But on Sept. 11, 2001, he suddenly became responsible for trying to save a company who had just lost 80-90 percent of its workforce. He lost his brother. Dozens of friends. Hundreds of people he knew.

Some 700 families were turning to him for help.

And in that moment, his gorgeous family, and all his career achievements, and his massive bank account amounted to very little in the context of his ability to feel happy.

Howard Lutnick had everything we all want. And in an instant became the very last person any of us would want to be.

I am not Howard Lutnick. But on paper, I had what I had always been chasing. A gorgeous family. A nice home. A good job. Friends. Family.

But then adulthood delivered hardships. The kind none of us are immune from and rarely see coming.

Everything fell apart.

And then I didn’t have a family anymore.

In the aftermath of the divorce, I could not have felt worse. I had never respected feelings. Because they’re fleeting and fickle and people make a lot of bad decisions based on their feelings.

But everything changed inside me when I felt just how low and miserable and tortured a person can feel in the midst of trauma.

It wasn’t until that moment that I could understand how someone could ever take their own life. We’re always like: How!? Why!? And if you’ve never felt THAT miserable you can’t understand how or why. For some people, shutting off that pain sounds like a drink of water after days in the desert.

The World Needs Unsung Heroes

Giving just to give. Helping just to help. Loving just to love.

Without wanting or expecting or demanding anything in return, including acknowledgment or admiration.

That’s the work of an unsung hero.

No one knows but you.

The Thai Life ad says it all and it bears repeating:

“What does he get in return for doing this every day? He gets nothing. He won’t be richer. Won’t appear on TV. Still anonymous. And not a bit more famous.

“What he does receive are emotions. He witnesses happiness. Reaches a deeper understanding. Feels the love. Receives what money can’t buy. A world made more beautiful.

“And in your life? What is it that you desire most?

“Believe in Good.”

Even if it’s selfish. Simply because you want to feel better, too. Do it anyway. Because that’s why we’re here. To do heroic work. Even if it’s quiet and understated and no one ever knows about it.

The pursuit of happiness begins with giving more than we take.

And believing in good.

And then doing some.

9 thoughts on “The Unsung Heroes”

  1. As always, beautifully written and totally thought-provoking. And I love that video. It will stay with me. But I picture Lutnick differently. In the face of all the horror of 9/11 I can’t help but wonder if he didn’t go home and love more deeply,hold his wife and children tighter than he ever had before, breathe more mindfully. I’m not saying I picture him happy after all that loss, but I picture him holding onto what he still has and loves with renewed ferocity. Am I saying that maybe sometimes that loss and all the other hard stuff actually shakes us out of numbness and the mindless seeking of happy-lite? Maybe. (Thanks for making me contemplate it today.)

    1. Thank you for reading it. 🙂

      I think that’s a fair characterization of the “positives” of being in a position like Lutnick was. An opportunity to really learn gratitude in a profound way.

      I get that.

      I just really think the point needs to be hammered home over and over and over again that we can get everything we want, but when we break on the inside, all of that is bullshit.

      People, I think (me, as much as anyone) need reminded that the lasting peace and contentment we all are truly seeking comes from other things.

      Thank you for weighing in, Jennifer. Appreciate it very much.

  2. I had seen that video before, but that didn’t stop me from getting choked up by it again. =) The most important message to give: Be kind. Do what you can to help. Not because there is a God telling us we should, or it will get us somewhere/thing in the end, but because we can understand another living being’s suffering and feel compassion. That’s it. Everything else just doesn’t matter in the end. It’s so simple, and yet a constant struggle for most us non-Buddhas. =)
    I’ve been so traumatized by all the horrific things in the news lately and it makes me feel very spiritually inadequate, because when I think about the members of ISIS, I think “I want them dead. Every last one. Off the planet.” But the reality is they were all little kids once. What kind of unloving upbringing have they had, to make them capable of these things? I try to feel compassion for them too, but I can’t. Nope. I just want them dead. =(

    p.s. Hadn’t heard of the documentary but I’m going to watch it while G is at work tonight.

    1. I hope you enjoy the film, K. It’s not great. It’s just captivating because of what it is.

      And yeah: Be kind.

      Everything would be really magnificent if we could get 100-percent buy-in on that.

      Not holding my breath. 🙂

      But every little bit helps.

      1. Watched it last night. I remember the news stories about Cantor Fitzgerald when everything happened. Even now, the name gives me an unpleasant feeling in the pit of my stomach when I hear it. I had never heard this story, though. Amazing he was able to do what he did for his company. People described him as this cut throat, hard nosed business man, and maybe he is, but maybe those qualities are what gave him the ability to accomplish what he did, especially when he became the subject of so much criticism. He just faced up to it and kept going. It impressed the hell out of me, because I think it would have destroyed me. And I thought one of the most revealing moments came when he described losing both his parents at such a young age and feeling abandoned by his other relatives and it was just he and his siblings and why he felt such a intense responsibility to the families of his murdered employees. And he did what what he said he would do. A hero in my book, for sure. Thanks for the recommendation.

        1. Sorry. Was out of town, K. You’re welcome for the recommendation. I’m so glad you watched it and liked it, too.

          It’s always so interesting to me to see stories I know, but from another angle.

  3. to choose a film like this, show what kind person you are
    like we say: “tell me about things you like and I’ll tell you who you are

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top
Matt Fray

Get my latest writing!

Sign up for my free weekly email newsletter as I continue an on-going exploration of love and relationships.