"I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."
How true those words of 17th century philosopher William Penn are. Or to use more modern parlance: life is not a rehearsal, we only get one crack at it.
But if we are to leave a lasting mark on this speck of minerals known as the Earth which we all-too-briefly inhabit, our contribution has to be judged not only in terms of personal achievement, but also on any worthwhile effect we have had on others around us.
The old Boy Scouts adage of "a good deed daily" seems to have largely fallen by the wayside. The time many of us devote to things other than ourselves moves in ever-decreasing circles in our progressively materialistic and self-centred society, where the cult of the individual is king.
Perversely, the richer we become as a nation and the more free time we have, the more insular we become; battening down the hatches to focus on ourselves and our immediate circle.
There are 2.67 million unemployed people in the UK . If their energy and talents could be donated to others, what a wonderful world it would be, to steal a line from Louis Armstrong. The same goes for people lucky enough to have jobs, shouldn’t we be giving something back?
I’m not pointing the finger of blame at anyone – other than myself. I, like many others I’m sure, keep intending to volunteer for projects or charities, to "do some good," but to date I continue with my largely self-centred existence.
In all my travels, the kindest place I have ever visited was Laos, one of the poorest countries on Earth. If you’ve never been, I urge you to go there before the capitalists from China and Vietnam get their grip on the place. If you’ve already been, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
There is abject poverty, but no starvation, in Laos. I travelled the length and breadth of this primitive country, mostly alone, photographing for a book. All the way round I was met only with patience, kindness and offers of help wherever I went. People would literally go out of their way to assist me in any way they could, despite the fact that eking out a subsistence living took up most of their waking hours.
The Buddhists believe what goes around comes around. Families surviving on less that £100 a month, daily scrape their rice bowls and donate a couple of handfuls to the monks, who do not regard this as charity, but as part of the symbiotic relationship between people of the same community.
But you don’t have to travel to Laos to experience this. It is alive and well right under our noses in Huddersfield, even in these harsh times. For the last two weeks I have spent much time interviewing worthy people from all walks of life, aged between four and 80-odd, who have made a difference.
These unsung heroes are all finalists for the Examiner Community Awards – Huddersfield’s answer to the Oscars. Some individuals have devoted countless hours over several decades to people in their community, other ordinary people have faced adversity and become extraordinary human beings through the courage they have shown.
This year the calibre of nominees is stronger than ever and the awards night on May 31 at the Galpharm Stadium is already a sell out.
I’ll be going along, it will be a humbling experience. One which, I hope ,will spur me on to volunteer for something ... even if it does mean a few less rounds of golf!
To all the candidates: You’re showing us the way and we take our hats off to you.