By all accounts, Ned Brooks is a fairly average guy. He has a wife and three kids, a house in Norwalk, Connecticut, and considers himself semi-retired at age 65. I became acquainted with Ned’s story as he shared it with long-time journalist Stephen Dubner, who hosts the popular podcast, Freakanomics.
Several months ago, Ned was listening to an earlier episode of the show where Nobel prize-winning economist Al Roth was interviewed about his research. This research into commerce algorithms caught Ned’s ear as the show discussed strategies to match kidney donors with potential patients. Ned had never once considered donating a kidney before that moment, but with a background in business, the economics of the situation intrigued him.
Roth’s research suggested that, oftentimes, it takes just one altruistic donor to kick-start a chain of events that could see anywhere from three to forty-three people on the waiting list receive donated organs. An altruistic donor is a person who donates an organ to the “list” as an unselfish gesture, not because of a personal relative or acquaintance with a need. Ned decided in that moment that he wanted to be screened to be a kidney donor, even though he didn’t know anyone personally who needed one. He stepped forward as an altruistic donor, quite literally willing to give someone else the gift of life. When asked why, he said, “Without it being too much of a stretch, my one wholly redundant organ can potentially change and improve thelives of hundreds of people…There were 5,355 kidney transplants from living donors last year, but there are over 100,000 people on the waiting list right now for a kidney.”
In a surprise move (to Ned at least), Dubner then brought in the woman who received Ned’s kidney. Danielle is a mother of three who experienced complications shortly after the birth of her third child. These complications resulted in severely reduced renal function, ultimately necessitating a kidney transplant. Ned had never met, nor even spoken with Danielle before that moment when Dubner delivered his on-the-air introduction. Ned heard her voice and immediately broke down weeping. Intellectually, he knew that his kidney had gone to someone who needed it, but that someone was anonymous. They didn’t have a face, a name, or a voice. Being introduced to Danielle became emotionally overwhelming. And the weeping wasn’t restricted to Ned. When asked to read the letter that Danielle had written to Ned, thanking him for what he had done, Dubner too began to cry—right in the middle of the broadcast.
When humanity comes face to face with an act of pure selflessness, whether believer or non-believer, we’re given a glimpse of the Divine. It’s a glimpse of what we were made to be—beings created in the selfless image of God. I’m convinced that our finite corrupt natures see altruism as so completely divergent from the normative human experience that we’re unable to process it—so we weep.
Each of us is given daily opportunities to have a positive impact on the people around us—on those that we know personally along with those that we don’t. Your positive impact doesn’t have to be something as invasive as donating a kidney, though God may impress you to do just that. Start where you are. Start with a smile, a kind word, or an altruistic gesture with nothing expected in return. But do it for this reason: that the recipient might, through your actions, be brought face to face with the selfless, completely altruistic Creator of the Universe.