“Put ‘going the extra mile’ to work as part of one’s daily habit” – Bruce Lee
The Third Option
Before Jesus presented the “go for two” recommendation, the people living under Roman subjugation only saw two options for dealing with the forceful requirement to carry a soldier’s load for one mile; comply or rebel. The former was done reluctantly while the latter was rarely attempted as the Romans perfected one of the most intimidating and excruciating forms of punishment to ever exist; crucifixion. Along the same highway that the one-mile rule was expected to be adhered to, people on crosses reminded the subjects of Rome of the price of rebellion.
Undoubtedly Jesus noticed the one-mile law and the burden it had put on people who had grown weary of it as well as the Roman occupation. But Jesus saw another way when others saw the only two options available. And this third option, going for two, has forever changed how we view our relationships with others personally or professionally. People we consider great in life are those who choose the third option consistently in small ways. They may not be famous or financially set for life but their dedication to living a second-mile lifestyle makes us stop, look and recognize that we are in the presence of greatness. And sometimes greatness is all about the small seeds we sow in others that germinate into a life of significance.
A Nurse and Cookies
At just 19 months old, Helen Keller lost both her sight and hearing to a mysterious illness. As she grew into adulthood, unruliness, expressed in temper tantrums and terrorizing her home, marked her life. Her course changed when Anne Sullivan came into her life as a teacher. Underneath the wild behavior, Sullivan twigged something in Keller and worked to excavate the treasure that lay beneath the surface of Keller’s life. The influence that Anne Sullivan had on Keller was remarkable. Today, Helen Keller is globally remembered for her championing of the rights for the blind and the less fortunate. When one of England’s highest awards was pinned on Keller for her accomplishments, Queen Elizabeth asked, “How do you explain the fact that even though you are both blind and deaf, you were able to accomplish so much?” Almost instinctively, Keller replied, “If it had not been for Anne Sullivan, the name Helen Keller would have remained unknown.”
Sullivan went the second mile in Keller’s life because she experienced a second-mile touch in her own life. Sullivan could relate to Keller because she was once diagnosed as insane and considered a danger to society. She would have remained locked in the basement of a mental institution in Boston unless an elderly nurse took time to see the potential in her. She began bringing cookies to Sullivan and leaving them in her room. This small act began to bring Sullivan, not only out of the basement of the institution but also out of the dungeons of a hopeless existence. Doctors noticed a change in Sullivan. This change continued until Sullivan was released. Her need to help others was inflamed and that passion and purpose were exactly what Keller needed when their paths crossed.
Keller was right to say she would be unknown if it were not for Anne Sullivan. But I believe that without the elderly nurse, Anne Sullivan would not have been there to help Helen Keller. This is the upward effect of small acts performed by a second miler. So in the vein of the elderly nurse, Anne Sullivan, and Helen Keller, how do we live as perennial second milers?
Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller were beneficiaries of keen observation. By looking beneath the surface of Sullivan’s diagnosis, the elderly nurse not only brought Anne out of the basement of the institution but also brought out the potential in Anne. As the nurse took note of Anne and believed there was hope for her, she took small steps to express that hope. Initially “little Annie” did not take note of the nurse or show any response to her words of encouragement. But she persisted and Anne came around.
Observation is walking with our eyes and hearts simultaneously opened. First, I believe with observation comes the possibility of new ideas. Observation activates our sense of introspection, which is the place where new ideas and thinking patterns start to form. Second, great questions that initiate change stem from keen observation. And third, keen observation helps us respond positively in the lives of others in crisis. Together, they produce the key to a second-mile lifestyle and unlock the door to active helpfulness.
After Sullivan’s release from the mental institution, her life impacted by the elderly nurse, she had a deep desire to help others. Her opportunity came with Helen Keller who by all accounts was a replication of Sullivan’s past existence of hopelessness. Just as she had been helped, Anne began working with young Keller. She went the second mile to draw out the potential Keller possessed that others could not see under the veneer of her unruliness. Where others gave up, Sullivan saw another option. With patience and love, the basis for active helpfulness, she assisted Keller to develop the discipline that would bring out her true worth. In Keller, Sullivan was presented with a small opportunity and she went the second mile with active helpfulness. Are you present to the moments and opportunities in front of you to go the second mile?
Final thought: People who live in the second mile are game-changers. They may not be famous in the world, but their legacy lives on in the lives of those they touch like the elderly nurse or Anne Sullivan. Second milers are fully present in the moment and opportunity in front of them through keen observation and active helpfulness. Like Jesus, they have a different way of seeing life than the obvious options. Their lives are other-centered and for it, the world is a better place.
Keep on keeping on.