“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
There was a time when I met every request with two instinctively defensive thoughts: “What are you trying to take from me?” And “What’s in it for me?”
Of course I didn’t say these things out loud. I either denied the request without really considering it, or passively aggressively tried to elicit some type of reciprocal offer.
In retrospect, I don’t think I did these things because I was selfish and heartless (though I know I acted selfishly and shut my heart down at many points in my life.)
It was more that I didn’t trust anyone, and I assumed the worst in their intentions and actions. Deep down, I believed everyone was against me. They were competition. They wanted me to fail.
Eventually I realized the irony: I was afraid no one had my best interests at heart, and as a result I failed to offer them that same courtesy.
How could I ever expect people to believe in me if I didn’t believe in them?
I realized then that every request contains within it an offer and an opportunity.
If someone asks you to pick your brain over coffee, they’re not just asking for your time—they’re also offering theirs. You never know what you might teach other.
If someone asks you to make an introduction for them, they’re not just asking for your connections—they’re also offering to be connected. You never know how one introduction may benefit everyone involved.
Whatever the request, it comes with an opportunity to recognize yourself in someone else, and meet them with the kindness you would want to receive.
I’m not suggesting we should say yes to everything people ask of us, or that we should only say yes because really, there’s always something in it for us.
I’m suggesting that sometimes when we think we’re the ones helping, we’re also the ones being helped.
We can either walk through our lives trying to get ahead, suspecting others want to pull us down; or we can choose to walk side by side, as friends, not adversaries.
If we’re willing to fully believe that we are all in this together, we can create a far more supportive world, one in which we can all thrive together instead of struggling apart.
Photo by Irene2005