“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” ~Samuel Johnson
The father couldn’t seem to stop reminding his daughter that he had helped her out of a financial mess when she was going through her divorce. Now, he felt that it was his right to drop in on her (and her new husband) whenever he wanted. He was very proud of the help he had provided and couldn’t seem to stop reminding them how very good of him that had been. The new husband had written to Dear Abby in hopes of finding a way to deal with his father-in-law’s ego. Reading the letter, I kept thinking of how controlling this father was trying to be, and how selfish his actions and expectations were. Abby said much the same, “The next time the subject comes up, explain that to him, hand him a check, and let the chips fall where they may.” When a person is more concerned with being showered with accolades than with simply knowing they were able to help someone in need, as Johnson said, the true measure of the man seems sadly obvious.
When I notice the shortcomings of others, which I occasionally do, I know that I need to stop long enough to check myself. Do I do the same things that I’m noticing in someone else? In this case, am I able to help someone and not follow with an expectation of indebtedness on behalf of the person I’ve helped? Are you? I’m willing to look at myself and hope you’ll take a moment to do the same.
Why do we do things to help others? Why do we tell the world via Facebook or Twitter that we’ve performed a wonderful deed — buying a cup of coffee for a stranger or serving ‘selflessly’ in a third world country? Are we just happy about how it made us feel or are we looking for someone to notice our kindness, and if so, is that wrong?
It seems folks, in general, are looking for equity — I give, you receive followed by you give, I receive. “People actually prefer gifts when they are able to give something in return as opposed to gifts with no strings attached (Walster, Berscheid, & Walster, 1976).” It makes sense that most of us like to be able to repay a kindness. Some folks, however, are so incredibly self-centered that it never occurs to them and others demand it, which makes giving anything but a gift.
I’m a giver, and I know many people are just like I am and wish our recipients didn’t feel the need to respond in kind. Being repaid a favor hasn’t been important to me, though I’m sure I have placed expectations on people for other reasons. I need to allow people to respond in kind if they want, maybe you do, too. If you are like the father in the letter, though, it’s time to decide if your expectations are unfair and are driving a wedge in relationships.
We all need balance (and some could use a dose of kindness) Writer Jeff Goins has three suggestions that I think are a great place to begin:
- Help as many people as you can. It will come back around to you.
- Expect nothing in return. Help them just because you care and don’t obsess over the results.
- Don’t try to help everyone. That’ll make you crazy. Set some rules, like a maximum time commitment for when and where you help people and stick to them. And get comfortable with saying no.
When you place the yardstick beside you, what will be your measure? Hold the hand of someone who is frightened, pitch in a few dollars if you are able, and let people off the hook of owing you what began as a kindness.