Thursday, 30 December 2010

Seasons of Goodwill

It seems every culture has a season of goodwill. Shouldn't we be asking why every season isn't overflowing with goodwill? Is it that we also need seasons to not care about others too?

It got me thinking about what prompts goodwill, selflessness and support of any kind. Here's a few ideas of what might be our motivation.

  1. Obligation
  2. Winning friendships
  3. For gratitude
  4. To impress others
  5. To earn entry/rewards in the next world
  6. Out of love and compassion for others
  7. Out of wanting to increase our self-esteem
  8. Because others deserve more support than us
  9. To salve our own conscience
  10. To 'out do' another
  11. For popularity

I can honestly say all the above reasons have been my motivation at some time or another except for the last two. Now that I'm in my 40s though I find I have become more cautious and more selective, not least because I've learnt to identify those in genuine need a bit better and I've made the conscious decision to reserve my efforts for them, but only when I myself am up to it. I'm no use to anyone if I am burnt out.

I've also learnt that being a 'people pleaser' is a form of self-neglect, as to please others to ingratiate ourselves with them or for popularity involves negating our own needs, sympathies, beliefs, opinions, thoughts and feelings. It becomes an acting role with the heart, soul and truth of the person who is the performer steadily getting diminished and crushed. It is not uncommon for selflessness to manifest itself in those who have little or no self-esteem or self-worth.

The root of such behaviour can be down to all manner of distressing events and experiences including neglect, smothering, manipulation, conditioning, rape among many forms of emotional and physical abuse. Feeling you are less deserving; that your thoughts, feelings and needs are less important than another is quite simply, wrong. We are all of equal value to anyone and everyone else. We are never more deserving of attention than anyone else, merely equally deserving. Who is it who can say they have had the worst of life? There are always more horrors that we have not encountered but that someone else has, but they won't have experienced our suffering. In a nutshell, pain is pain. It's not a competition.

The truth is harsh. Life isn't fair. When it comes to life's ordeals and traumas the question perhaps ought to be "why not me?" instead of "why me?" Unpleasant things do happen, but the trick is not to let them have the effect of devaluing our sense of worth and belief in ourselves or to think it gives us a license to railroad other others as if they don't matter.

This week I came across a person who expressed their pain in a very curious way. They had been extremely generous and supportive of another, but they had also become bitter and angry about it too and suddenly and savagely turned on the person they had been so supportive of.

If it is likely that we will end up resenting giving emotional, practical or emotional support I would argue it is best not to offer the support in the first place. I would suggest that it is best not to promise things that we may come to regret doing, or things that may cause us harm or damage in any way. To give false hope to another, in my view, is one of the cruellest forms of emotional torture (even when unintentional) hence why I have tried to avoid promising anything at all. To ensure this I have adapted how I offer support by using phrases such as 'if I can' and 'I'll try but I don't promise' thus making it clear to that person where they stand.

Reliance and dependency upon others at times of need is all too tempting but I feel it's best avoided if possible for fear of disappointment. Instead, I've tried to only ask and only accept help for the essentials I need at any given time, be it emotional, practical or financial support.

My closest relationships are with those I am allowed to be supportive of in return. I don't feel an obligation to those people, but a gratitude and a desire to be there for them as they have been for me out of love. Sometimes I've been supportive first, sometimes not.

What sets them apart from the rest of my acquaintances is the respect they've shown me at all times. Of most value has been the suggestions and advice on how to cope or resolve a difficulty.

I wish I could remember where I heard this quote from but the fact is the words stood out so much I have forgotten the source. "Remember that when you give to others, you are also taking something away." That 'something' I think is pride and when we are desperate for help we often forget how easy it is to view it as a luxury that we simply can no longer afford. A homeless person begging for money for food has to give it up just to ask for support.

I wonder now if dependency beyond childhood is not a form of enslavement. I prefer, and advocate, empowerment by giving people the means by which they can shape their own future. In my opinion advice is of equal value to financial or practical support for this reason. Indeed I think it always ought to go hand in hand.

The Need for a Break
None of us are superhuman or gods. People who are renowned for their 'selflessness' are no exceptions; who's to say they didn't go through an internal personal hell before they became strong enough and balanced enough to do their good works. They acquire an absolute inner peace before they devote their lives to others.

For the rest of us we simply cannot give, give, give and if we do so without first addressing our own needs we are likely to be causing ourselves harm. When that happens are we really the best people to be supportive of others? If we haven't learnt how to address and overcome our own hurts and harms, are we really the best people to advice and support others?

Seasons of goodwill are there to celebrate the fact that there is goodwill. I think it is wrong to expect it of anyone 24/7. We all need time to recharge our batteries, to learn from our own troubles before giving to others and to take a step back from the plight of others to see the situation more clearly too. It doesn't mean though that goodwill is not there all the time. Would it could always be very apparent to one and all but the answer to that lies in everyone doing their bit toward that goal, when they can. That way we can all share the weight and worry instead of it becoming an all consuming activity of a few. Teamwork and taking turns I think is the route toward everyone getting help when they need it.

Happy New Year everyone!

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