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Such great heights

It all started when a friend and I were talking about this guy whom I had been stalking online for a little while. Not stalking as in harassing or even contacting – I wouldn’t want him to know I have such an interest in him. Rather, keeping tabs on what he’s doing, sighing over his amazing Instagram photos, being in awe of how many countries he’s visited and the things he’s done both on his travels and outside of them. There is also the small matter of finding him devastatingly attractive.

So, my friend and I were talking about my recent online activities (or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I was raving about this guy and he was a possibly reluctant ear to this), and a nerve struck when I mused about how much I admired of the guy’s sense of idealism. How he wants to change the world and has the potential to do this – I said to my friend on IM that I found all this inspiring.

‘It sure is,’ my friend answered – probably rolling his eyes or preoccupied with something else more interesting than hearing about my girlish crush. ‘Liberating,’ he added.

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Noble. Aspirational.’

He disagreed. ‘Not sure about noble though.’

‘Wanting to make the world a better place isn’t a noble pursuit?’ I asked.

‘Sometimes giving up that pursuit (or ones dream) is more “noble”,’ he replied.

And so began a discussion of what it is to be noble.

I defined it in three ways: deed, sacrifice, cause/pursuit. The third is the easiest to achieve – having a lofty goal always is. Action is always much harder, which encompasses ‘noble deed’ and ‘noble sacrifice’.

In picking apart what we understand the concept to be, my friend gave an example of a friend of his, who has to work in his family’s business on the weekend. He said that another friend of his is idealistic, like the guy I’ve been stalking, but he’s also rich and doesn’t have the same responsibilities as his other friend does.

‘We say that he can “afford” to dream,’ my friend said. ‘Now, I would say my first friend is more inspirational. But not as noble as the latter.’

I agreed that some people are disadvantaged and, as he put it, can’t afford to dream. But I disagreed that helping out one’s family out of obligation is to be noble.

I’ve certainly known people in that situation – I myself was too, and while I did find having to work at my father’s office during my high school and early uni years a pain, I didn’t see myself as being noble for doing the work.

Ultimately, I wore my friend down (as I’m wont to do) and had him pondering aloud what a noble sacrifice or deed would be.

‘Would fulfilling family expectations and carrying out responsibilities be counted? Hmm,’ he mused.

‘I don’t think so,’ I said. ‘I think perhaps giving up your fulfilling career to care for your disabled parent or child might be noble. Noble sacrifice. Or giving up something you really wanted and worked really hard for and giving that to someone else because you thought they were more deserving of it.’

And then I got sidetracked and started OMGing over some more photos I found of the guy who triggered the whole discussion in the first place.

Closer to home I recently faced a story of, if not nobility, then something darn close to it. This week I attended a special meeting held by ArtSound to discuss the station’s financial situation (revealed in all its fundraising activities of late). Attendees voiced their views on ways that we could generate more income and boost our profile, and some expressed their indignation at one suggestion put forward that presenters contribute financially to participate.

My co-producer, who had been listening to all this going on with quiet exasperation, finally stood up and took her turn to speak.

She indicated her disapproval over the attitude of feeling put out or somehow burdened in being asked to contribute, financially or through the contribution of time of non-broadcast related duties. She reminded us that being on air is a privilege, saying that she considers it an act of community service. And that if we’re doing what we do out of self-interest then we’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

Her speech was moving, impassioned and was met with applause. She spoke from the heart but also from experience – if there’s anyone who could be held up as a paragon of tireless contribution, it’s her and her husband.

A couple of days after the meeting, we crossed paths at the station, where I was editing an interview I’d done earlier that day and she was waiting on her husband who was doing some training and interviews of his own. This was at about 8:00pm, mind, and all three of us hold full time jobs.

Another presenter had been in the CD library, where we were gathered, and the presenter apologised for the late message she sent to my co-producer in RSVPing for the fundraising dinner my co-producer had organised. My co-producer dismissed her apology saying that she would’ve been up working anyway, although she hadn’t seen the message. She referred to her partner and said that the lights don’t tend to go out in their house until midnight or 1AM most days.

Someone else who happened to walk in around this time concurred, ‘X does seem to send emails pretty late,’ referring to her husband.

This whole exchange simply reinforced my awareness of how much my co-producer and her husband give of their time and of themselves to an endeavour that they do not benefit from financially – quite the contrary. As she informed us at the meeting she made a financial outlay in aid of the fundraising efforts that she has yet to recoup, and no doubt there would be other examples of financial contributions to the station too.

I donate to the station and I have been involved with two fundraising efforts so far this year – including the book and music fair which is on today (given we’ve now entered the early hours of Sunday). But I can’t say that I’m entirely free of self-interest, given my actions are done to help ensure the continued survival of the station, which is my primary avenue for the work that I find fulfilling and meaningful: conducting my interviews. I don’t know where I would be without the station. And I know that many people too, who are involved with the station, those who benefit from the services it provides, would be all the poorer for its demise.

If a key part of being noble is selflessness, and if some people commit acts of sacrifice that are motivated by love – of a person, of a cause, of a community or entity – could those acts still be considered noble? Is acting out of love self-serving?

In my case I would say yes. But, as I have described, there are examples where I don’t believe this to be true.

I take heart in the noble deed, the noble sacrifice and the noble pursuit. I am most romantic about the last, and doubt I’ll ever achieve the selflessness required to fulfil the first two – though I guess not many do and that’s what makes those acts so remarkable. But pursuit I can easily get behind. As Matthew McConaughey espoused in his 2014 Best Actor Oscar acceptance speech, I think we need to have something to look forward to, someone to look up to, and something to chase. The bigger the dream, the greater the ambition, all the better.

***

If I could do just one near perfect thing I’d be happy
They’d write it on my grave or when they scattered my ashes
On second thoughts I’d rather hang around
And be there with my best friend
If she wants me

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