Cambrian: Opinion

Ask the busiest person you know

A bench at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve bench created by Richard Lee.
A bench at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve bench created by Richard Lee.

A mentor once advised me, “If you need something important done, ask the busiest person you know to help out.”

It’s true. As I write, I’m busy building the steps to make Pacific Wildlife Care’s sixth annual Soupabration! in November a success. Meanwhile, Soupabration! co-coordinator Marcelle Bakula, assembles her part for another local fundraiser. We tend to be busy people. Life includes copious lists and notes. Emails and texts never end.

Now, two days before I leave for a photo-shoot and a visit-the-family-vacation, my to-do list grows like our local ocean kelp in summer. As the sun rose, an email requested additional information on a sponsorship grant application I submitted for Soupabration! So, I called the other busiest person, Marcelle, and cried, “Help!” And on this same day we each received calls from dear friends asking for help — as houseguests and airport pickups.

We don’t mind these things. We probably thrive to give within the throes of busy.

Helping others as its own reward

Researchers Jamil Zaki, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University, and Jason Mitchell, an associate professor of the social sciences at Harvard University set out to find out why, against the old standard that we are an inherently selfish species, people give. From an essay in the UC Berkeley Greater Good in Action website, “How our Brains Makes Us Generous”:

“Zaki and Mitchell’s research has gone head-to-head with standard economic models of decision making, which assume that when people exhibit kind, helpful (or ‘pro-social’) behavior, they are doing so to protect their reputation, avoid retribution, or benefit when their kindness is reciprocated.

“But in a study published in 2011 in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Zaki and Mitchell tested an alternate theory: that we feel good when helping others not because we are trying to avoid negative consequences but because behaviors like fairness, cooperation, and reciprocity are intrinsically rewarding.”

Space limits how deep this month’s column can go into the study, but Zaki said, “Kindness and nice behaviors might be like psychological chocolate. People might actually enjoy doing kind things for others, and that might be an emotional engine for driving pro-social behaviors.”

I love chocolate!

Keeping up with Cambria’s busy Lees

Shirley Paulson-Lee and Richard Lee of Cambria who I’d include on my busiest persons list, fit Zaki and Mitchell’s model.

“There’s a word that’s hard for Richard to say. It’s ‘no,’ ” Shirley said.

Among the Lees’ list of giving both time and effort are 13 years as docents with Friends of the Elephant Seal, and serving either as active members or board directors for Greenspace — The Cambria Land Trust, Cambria Historical Society, Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, Piedras Blancas Light Station and the Lions Club of Cambria.

In full disclosure, I came home with one of Richard’s handcrafted folk art birdhouses that he donated to PWC’s Soupabration! The bright yellow and green recycled wood birdhouse is probably near the 400th birdhouse he has made and donated to local fundraisers. I see them in Cambria yards everywhere.

“It’s a creative outlet for Richard,” Shirley explained. You can also view Richard’s creative outlet on benches throughout Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

“The bench engineers are Gil Eastman and Walt Andrus. They measure and calculate everything. Then I eyeball the bench and add on the decor,” Richard said with a sly smile that suggested friendly jests about technique among the three men when designing a new bench for the ranch.

At present, Pinedorado is Richard’s focus.

“It’s a big fundraiser for the community,” Richard said. He volunteered to operate the Lion’s Store during this year’s Pinedorado. I’d bet Shirley will be right next to him ringing up sales.

After 13 years, Shirley still calls volunteering out at the elephant seal rookery, “enjoyable.” Both she and Richard were previously named Docents of the Year by the FES board.

Richard explained his volunteer efforts this way, “I retired and got bored quick. I don’t play golf, Shirley won’t let me watch the same movie twice in a single week, and because I could retire, I needed to give back. It’s about our carbon footprint and doing something positive for the world.”

“Ask the busiest person you know for help,” the advice given to me years ago, remains relevant in the world of volunteerism.

Charmaine Coimbra’s column appears the fourth Thursday of each month and is special to The Cambrian.