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The Art of Helpfulness



I listened to a TED talk the other day on the matter of helpfulness. The speaker contended that life is not about competing with your peers, one-upping your colleagues, or being some sort of superstar in life. Rather, she said, it is about working with others toward common goals and being helpful to others while at the same time accepting help from others. In other words, she advocated the idea of teamwork (without ever using the word "team").


Teamwork is definitely something I see less and less of nowadays. It seems that people are so intent on rising to the top of their fields, making names for themselves, seeking financial security, and protecting their reputations that they've effectively given up on helping others or seeking help from others. The American ideal of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps has morphed into some sort of hyper-individualism with narcissistic tendencies. Social media alone provides evidence of this unfortunate phenomenon. We have become a society of climbers intent on summiting our mountains, planting our victory flags, and securing our legacies without ever considering how others might be involved in the process.


Unfortunately for those who subscribe to this practical philosophy, life doesn't work on individual effort alone. Ultimate success will never be attained in a vacuum, and a life without meaningful and "helpful" social networks is not only lonely, but it will also eventually result in failure. Human beings are inherently flawed, finite, and fragile. At some point everyone reaches their limits, and without the help of friends, family, and colleagues, there will be an unrecoverable fall...you can bank on that!


However, the solution is simple: engender a spirit of helpfulness! Look for ways to help your colleagues on projects at work. Find ways to encourage friends and family members in their endeavors. Volunteer at your church, or get involved in a charity or some philanthropic organization. Support an underprivileged child. In other words, do something for someone else! On the flip side, take and seek help from other people. Don't go through life with a "Lone Ranger" mentality. Realize your weaknesses and limitations and find others to fill in the gaps. Not only will your life be considerably easier, but you'll probably make some wonderful friends and partners along the way. And when you get to the top of that mountain, there will be someone with whom to enjoy the view.

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