Much misconstruction and bitterness are spared to him who thinks
naturally upon what he owes to others, rather than on what he ought
to expect from them.
– Elizabeth de Meulan Guizot, French author (1773-1827)

What do I owe to others? What do you owe to others? What do I owe to you?

Should anyone even care?

Yes.

To begin, those who are fully aware of what they should expect from others will always be disappointed. If nine people out of ten they meet do exactly as they expect, these people–the expectors–will remember the tenth. The tenth, the violator of norms the expectors expect of others, will stand out in their memories like the proverbial sore thumb.

That’s human nature. The behaviour that violates norms is not just remembered, but is often held up as indicative of the kind of person who does “that kind of thing.” We tend to forgive ourselves our misdeeds before we are prepared to forgive others. A generalization, to be sure, but still typical of human nature.

Tell a lie and it may take you decades of truth telling to overcome the memory others have of that lie. Violate the fidelity of marriage and it will result in divorce in most cases. Fail to live up to a promise you made may cost you a friendship, or a customer, or the trust of who knows how many people who learn about it. Yet it’s in the nature of humans to tell the occasional lie, in their hormonal and instinctive makeup to seek more than one sexual partner, and it’s often nothing more than memory failure or being too busy that causes people to fail to fulfill their promises.

Putting too much emphasis on what we expect of others is fundamentally fraught with failure.

Think now about someone you know who offers a lot of himself or herself to help others. That person is usually (but not universally) loved and respected. There will always be those who resent what such givers accomplish and the respect and accolades they may receive because they are jealous. But jealousy and envy are sicknesses that fortunately live in few people.

Do I owe something to you? Well, you may say, I owe you a good read since you took the time to read this. From my point of view, I spent over five decades of my life actively learning from others, while having little to offer them in return. By writing this article and many others, I share what I have learned as a way of paying forward what others gave to me over so many years.

I am happier now than I have ever been in my life. To a great extent, that happiness is based on what I learned from others. In some cases, what I learned from them was how to cope with misfortune and errors. In others it was how to do things I had never tackled before and to see them through to completion and success. If I share that with you, you have a better chance of achieving what I have, of feeling the way I feel.

I can’t make you happy. I can only point you in the right direction. Your motivation must come from within you. If you focus on how others disappoint you, you will often be disappointed, have negative feelings about others and the world in general. If you focus on what you might do to make their lives a little better, you will have successes. Some greater than others, that’s true. Some successes you may never learn about because the others involved moved on before changing their lives.

But you will know.

More than gratitude and self satisfaction result from helping others. It takes time and many instances of helping. But something happens within you that changes your life forever. I don’t want to be specific about what this mystery is because I don’t want you to use it as an incentive to help others. Do that because it’s the right thing to do.

Doing that kind of right thing feels good. Try it if you haven’t. Do more if you have. If the latter, you will understand the mystery already.

Bill Allin
Turning it Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to grow healthy and well balanced children who will take better care of their world, their families and their lives than their ancestors did.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

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