It’s not the breaths you take but the moments that take your breath away

Brent Pope is a New Zealand born rugby player,  professional rugby coach, and  one of Irelands best known and respected media personalities. He has given his time for many charities over the years. Here he tells us why he gives his time and how it makes him feel.

The greatest compliment anybody can give me is that in some small way they consider me a kind person. It seems strange that in many ways while I have achieved many things in my life, such as experiencing life as a professional sportsperson, working on television, writing books, opening art galleries and lots of other things that I never thought would, could happen to me it is acts of kindness that mean the most.

I grew up as a young man with little or no self-belief or self-confidence, I masked it like many sufferers do by always being the funny one, and I call it the tears of a clown. I have always suffered crippling anxiety issues and panic attacks. But from an early period I watched and admired as my father Michael always gave back.

Dad is an amazingly emphatic and generous man, always helping people, never for personal credit, never about any financial rewards but just about giving another human being a hand up when they needed it. I would like to think that I have hopefully inherited that trait? 

Luckily because I am something of a known person in this country I am in a privileged position to give back some of my time at least. I have probably worked at some stage with all the major charities in Ireland. Why? Because I admire the people that are behind them, the many inspirational people that never get the accolades they deserve, yet everyday help others less fortunate than themselves. If I can touch just one person and make their life better, easier, more positive then that is a wonderful gift for anyone to have.

I try to live my life asking not if I have a made a difference in my own life but more importantly have I made a difference in somebody else’s? And my wish when I leave this planet is that people will hopefully remember me as someone that might have touched their lives and made it more positive for whatever length of time, that for me will for me be a greater legacy than anything I may have done on the rugby field.

But charity is also about what it brings to you – it’s a symbiotic relationship. I always say when I am talking to teenagers about wellness and mental wellbeing that being empathic is one of the best feelings you can have, and I do believe that charity begins at home too. A simple smile or a chat to a lonely neighbour, a word of love and encouragement to a homeless person, a random act of kindness all make you feel that you are a good person. It’s not and should never be about giving just for the sake of it, but about the heart that is behind it, never about column inches or personal gratification or recognition but the genuine warmth that you experience by having the ability to change someone else’s life.

Sometimes the requests for charity work can be difficult to manage for me, and every request is vital. I don’t like to say no, but sometimes I have to – I can’t be everywhere. But for anybody to get a chance to do something for someone else with the reward being a smile or a place in their heart is something that you will never regret.

“It’s not the breaths you take but the moments that take your breath away”

Try it! Do something kind, make someone’s day and see how it improves your wellness too, you will be amazed at the power of giving and it comes back in spades. My life with mental health issues can be lonely and sad sometimes, but every day I receive hope from the acts of others who will never know how grateful I am to their charitable acts to me. I received a mass card from the family of a man I recently visited in hospital, sadly it turned out to be his last week on this earth, we just shut the door and chatted about the things that made him happy – his family, his love of rugby. He squeezed my hand with his weakened grip and thanked me, but it was I that needed to thank him. That man passed away and his lovely wife said that it was one of the happiest days of his life, how can anything be more powerful than that?

How can any amount of material goods ever, ever replace the feeling of having made a difference to someone else’s life? So for one hour, one week, one year whatever time you have to give, reach out, volunteer and feel how wonderful it will make you feel, you will never regret it…

This blog is part of our National Volunteering Week 2016 blog series. Get involved on social media using #NVW2016.

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