Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

This I Believe - Helping Others Can Help Yourself (Final Installment Part I)

(H3) While I carry many personal philosophies, the one that I probably believe in the strongest is that you can help yourself through helping others. Many other people seem to share the same opinion. You can just Google "helping others to help yourself" quotes and find a long list of people who share the same thoughts on the subject. Half a dozen reworded phrases from Dalai Lama, Shakespeare, I even saw one from Arnold Schwarzenegger while poking around the internet just to see what I could find. There was one I saw that was attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson that stuck out to me the most though, because it mirrors exactly what I have grown up to believe. The quote was simply: "It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself."

The implication that not only can we gain help simply by helping someone else, but that this is compensation from life, rings true to me. I would even take it a step further and say that it is not only compensation but it is a gift. The act of being selfless, even if it is only in small ways, is something of a gift in of itself. It can lift a weight you never knew was there off of your shoulders, it can make you feel that you have served a good purpose. Any day when one can say " I have done something to help someone/something" is a successful day in my book. To help yourself by helping others is not a give-and-take process, at least not in the traditional way. In general, you do not get something in return for just helping someone out of the blue. There are instances where you may receive an actual item in return for your kindness but for the most part you will only get a thank you. This is the give-and-take though, you give someone help and in return you get the satisfaction of having done a good thing for someone else.

Recently I had the chance to help someone. It was in my communications class, before our second presentations were to begin. It was a few minutes before we were about to start when the girl across from me just started crying out of nowhere. She was trying to be very nonchalant about it, tried to hide it. A small part of me wondered if I should have just let it be, but I am a sensitive person and if there's one thing that I hate seeing it's someone upset. Trying to be equally nonchalant I quietly got her attention and asked her if she was okay. Like most in her situation she assured me that she was fine, even as moments later she was grabbing her things and darting out of the room. I watched her go like everyone else, waffling on what I should do about this even though I knew good and well what I was going to do. Fortifying myself against the stares I knew I was going to receive, reminding myself that I was attempting to help someone and not to let any anxiety get in the way of that, I stood up and left the room. Despite the awful rush of adrenaline at drawing such attention to myself I felt that I had made the right choice (spoiler alert: I did). I have had enough breakdowns and panic attacks to know what one looks like, and while I wasn't completely sure if that was what I had just witnessed, I felt comfortable enough with my own experience and knowledge to offer some help if it was wanted.

She had a good head start on me- it was luck and quick moving that let me see her near the restrooms. I called out to her, making a joke about how chasing after someone could seem presumptuous, and asked again if she was okay and if she needed to just be alone. Away from the eyes and ears of others she expressed what was wrong and after a short conversation my offer to talk about it was accepted. I went back to the class, grabbed my things, let our table know what was going on, and went back to where we agreed to meet up at. We sat there for the whole class period. She explained what was happening, about her stress with classes, and how this has never happened to her before. I listened to her as venting naturally turned into conversation, and she visibly calmed down significantly as time passed. I remember her saying with a laugh that she felt ready to do her presentation by the time she had fully calmed down (by this point class was already almost over). However, another important thing I remember her saying was that if she had been left alone she would have probably still be crying. Speaking from experience I can say that she probably would have been right- it's hard to work yourself down from a breakdown. It was these words that affirmed that I had made the right choice in checking up on her. It was a sort of validation and I will admit that I was happy to have received such a thing. Though, who wouldn't be? If helping people felt awful very few would do it.
It was not just their validation of my actions that made me feel good. Of course, being able to help this person out when they needed it was most definitely a part of it, but the feeling mainly came from being glad that I could even help in the first place. Being able to feel useful in a way that you know was actually helpful to someone is a very gratifying feeling. I think that this is what Emerson is referring to in his quote. You can even take it a step farther and say that helping people can even teach or reinforce skills. Problem solving, communication, confidence. By helping other people, you can develop these things in yourself while providing others with support.

I have heard some people that are more cynical claim that people only do good because they only want something, or they have to feel validated by trying to get attention by helping others. I think for the most part though, people help others to try to do a little bit of good in this world. At the very least that is why I try to do it. When I try to help someone, I hope that I have made their day at least a little better. I even go so far as to hope that maybe my good deed will lead to someone else doing a good deed, be it the person that I helped or a witness. Sometimes, when the world seems like a dark place and there seems to be no hope for the human race, I like to think that helping someone or even something is like lighting a small light in that darkness. A reaffirmation, even if it just to myself, that good can still happen. It might take some effort, but it can happen.


  1. Thank you! You've reaffirmed my faith in people just at the moment when I really needed reaffirmation. I agree, the fact that helping others feels good is in no way invalidating. You still have to summon the fortitude to stand up and, as you say, call gratuitous attention to yourself. You have to be willing to stand out when you might have shrunk back. Getting by with a little help from our friends is no idle cliche, it's one of life's most gratifying experiences - at both ends.

    Best thing I've read on the subject of altruism (vs. egoism) lately is by Matthieu Ricard, "Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World" - https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjvgauxvtPQAhVLOyYKHbWkCxAQFgghMAE&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FAltruism-Power-Compassion-Change-Yourself%2Fdp%2F031620823X&usg=AFQjCNFBnhKJIDi4CmDj5gFm7iC03i5ahQ&sig2=mwnkEkFWXH8nTO94jKFUgw&bvm=bv.139782543,d.eWE

    And check out Ricard's TED Talk: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjvgauxvtPQAhVLOyYKHbWkCxAQtwIIGzAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ted.com%2Ftalks%2Fmatthieu_ricard_how_to_let_altruism_be_your_guide&usg=AFQjCNH0qM_OmcCwVTb4tQ02qttGBMmHrQ&sig2=ZaO6s5LGcab3mb9FccTkcQ

  2. I agree that helping others will most certainly make this world a better place for all of humanity, including ourselves. I think it's human nature to want to help people, but society seems to suppress that ideal. I love that you are taking a stand for helping others for the simple reason of making the world a better place. (H3)