Helping others to help yourself

When we’re asked to do something, we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking “what’s in it for me?”

This may be a natural reaction and it does have its’ place, depending on what the request is, but in life generally maybe we should be asking “why not?” Instead of “what can you do for me, what can I do for you?” 

There are several quotes I’ve found: - 

"What goes around comes around"

"No-one ever became poor by giving"

"Helping others is how we help ourselves"

"Helping one person may not change the whole world, but it could change the world for one person"

"We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone"

Imagine someone asks for help, and you say that you’re unable to because you haven’t got the time, or the money, or you don’t approve, and you carry on with your life. How does that make you feel? If this has happened, have you ever regretted your response? Did you feel bad for not helping? 

The University of London has done some research into how helping others can boost your own happiness, health and sense of well-being, and the evidence suggests that when you help others, it triggers changes in your brain that are linked with happiness. This makes you feel better, gives you a sense of purpose and can make you feel rewarded and fulfilled.

When we help others, it can help us keep things in perspective, especially if those seeking help are less fortunate than us. We then feel grateful and more positive about our own lives. 

By helping others, perhaps by volunteering, we meet new people, maybe become friends and our lives become enriched, our self-esteem rises and generally our mental health improves. These positive changes in our lives can rub off on others and can make us more optimistic in our outlook, which will help us to de-stress and to be able to cope with life better. 

I have for years attended business networking events and for those of you that have never been to one, the idea is that we meet regularly, get to know what each other’s business is about, and build a trust of each other. Once we have built the trust, we can recommend each other to our own circle of contacts. So for instance, if I hear of someone who is looking for a solicitor or accountant, and they are unsure of where to go, I can suggest they talk to my colleagues in the networking group. People prefer to deal with someone who has been recommended to them rather than picking a company at random from the internet or the small ads. If I make that recommendation, the solicitor will think of me when they’re asked if they know anyone who can supply workwear.

The main theme of our group is exactly as I said at the start “not what can you do for me, but what can I do for you?” We don’t gain financially if the solicitor gets the work, but it will come around at some point. I have been involved in networking groups for over 20 years and have made a lot of contacts in that time and also made friends with some of them. The concept in business is the same as in our personal lives. 

My mother is a prime example of someone who gives without expecting anything in return. In her life she has had a successful career in management, raised a family, ran the household and looked after sick and elderly relatives all at the same time, always putting others first. When family members needed a place to stay for a few months she found room for them without hesitation. And now, at the age of 91, living on her own, still wants to make cakes and cook meals for the family and neighbour. Lockdown has been awful for her, because she couldn’t get together with anyone to socialise with them or help anyone. 

When I’m out and about, and am behind an elderly person in a queue, I have more patience these days, thanks to my Mum. Whilst others in the queue are tutting and restless, having to wait behind this slow person, I think about how I would want my Mum to be treated, and then offer that courtesy to the elderly person in front of me. I know we’re all in a hurry these days but remember – you’ll be old one day, will be naturally slower, and unable to help it. So be patient, and help if you can. Just by being patient and not forcing that person to feel flustered and a nuisance is a help. 

During the petrol shortages recently, I was in a queue waiting for fuel, and an elderly man a couple of cars in front of me was looking very bewildered by the pay-at-pump concept. He’d clearly never had to use one before and was completely lost as to what to do. He kept looking round for some help, and one man approached him from further back in the queue and to my astonishment was very aggressive and berated the elderly gent for holding everyone up. He begrudgingly showed him what to do and stormed off back to his car. The elderly man hadn’t grasped what he’d been told so still struggled, and someone else then took some time to do it for him. I felt so sorry for him, being caught up in a world he didn’t understand and being shouted at.

I wonder who felt better, the guy that helped him or the guy that shouted at him? Who is more stressed? My point is, it doesn’t take much to be nice to someone and to help them. (If you’re wondering why I didn’t help him, I’d never used pay at pump either so I felt I wouldn’t have been much help – although it was quite simple and I should have stepped forward) 

So have a think about it next time you’re asked to help before you say no. You may need help yourself one day, and it may even make you feel better about yourself and life in general. 

We know we can’t help everyone, but just help someone – as I often say, little things add up to a lot and if we all help just one person, that’s a lot of help. And be nice!