Helping others for the sake of attaining that ‘warm fuzzy’ feeling sounds wonderfully benevolent and altruistic, but in reality it is expecting something in return – a good feeling inside – which turns the act of giving into one of self-seeking motives.
I’ve been pondering what it means to truly give of myself, from the heart.
One night at the grocery store I overheard a woman behind me telling her companion that she loves volunteering to help people because it gives her a warm, fuzzy feeling. Her friend smiled and nodded knowingly. With admiration, she said, “I’m so proud of you for helping so many people. It’s great that you’re so active in this community. Other people should look up to you and do more of that.”
I’m thinking that this woman has likely helped countless people in our community, including myself and people I know. I am very grateful to her for that. I have a huge amount of respect for those who do the same, whether it be on a small community scale or a global one.
I also came away from witnessing that conversation with a sense of confusion. When the focus is on what the helper gets back – commonly known as the warm fuzzies – as a reason for helping in the first place, is that truly giving from the heart?
When helping is self-seeking
Helping others for the sake of attaining that ‘warm fuzzy’ feeling sounds wonderfully benevolent and altruistic, but in reality it is expecting something in return, a good feeling inside, which turns the act of giving into one of self-seeking motives.
Would that woman in the grocery store be helping if she didn’t get a warm, fuzzy feeling from it?
I believe that giving of oneself, truly and selflessly, means keeping no score, expecting nothing in return, and not judging our own or others’ worthiness to help or be helped.
Keeping no score
Do I only help someone if they’ve helped me in the past? Do I offer to help based on what they have done for me or for others?
True kindness is unconditional, requires no judgement nor recognition, and comes from a place of simply knowing one’s connectedness with all around us. Simplicity and genuine compassion.
Expecting nothing in return
Am I helping so that they’ll owe me later?
Am I doing it for recognition or respect?
Am I doing it because it feels good to get those warm fuzzies?
Helping how I’m needed, not how I think it should be
Am I helping with humble spirit, realizing that the best way to help is to ask how I am needed, not to assume I have all the answers? I’ve learned that jumping in and taking charge without asking how I can help is not the true spirit of giving – it arises from a root of self-serving motives.
Another day, another overheard conversation. A woman complaining that she took some items to an organization where she felt the items would be shared directly with those in need. The organization refused the items, and the woman I overheard was forcefully vowing that she’d never support that organization again because wasn’t that horrible of them?
As the story continued to unfold, it turns out the organization had too many of the items she was offering and had no more storage room for more. (The woman complained, “I’m sure they could find somewhere to put them.”) The reason they had too many in storage is because the people who they help had no need for so many of these items, despite public perception otherwise. (The woman was angry, and suggested they must be lying.)
The woman was getting others in the store lineup in on the conversation, all with nods of sympathy and irritation toward the organization.
All except one… ME.
It’s simple, really. Last time I checked, nobody died and made me Great Ruler Of The Entire Universe, so to presume that I know someone else’s needs better than they know their own is pompously ridiculous. It is an attempt to appease my own sense of helplessness.
I have been taught to first ask how I can help. And then listen deeply with compassion and respect. If what I have to offer is not what they need, ask them for a more appropriate way to help.
What if they don’t know what they need?
Even when someone says they don’t know what they need, I’ve been taught to provide an emotionally safe, peaceful, inviting space and then wait… listen in silence. Allow the quiet between the words. They will usually eventually figure out and tell me what they need, and I’ll be able to help in the best way possible for their benefit, not mine.
If they don’t figure it out, I may make suggestions. However, it’s important to do so without expectations that they’ll use them. Have honour and respect for the person’s ability and entitlement to choose their own path.
Lay my ideas on the table respectfully and leave them there. It’s up to them to pick them up and use them… or not. Their choice, not mine. When offering ideas or solutions, ask “Does that fit for you?” or “Would that work?”
Helping isn’t about coming up with solutions for someone, it’s about offering them help to find their own.
Helping without judging worthiness
I have learned that it’s not my business to question others’ motives or worthiness in asking for help. They may be asking from a place of true humility, or they may be self-serving and self-absorbed themselves. Either way, it is not my place to judge.
A person in need of help can be distressed, angry, fearful, emotional, or just plain offensive. They are as wholly and fully deserving of the gift of giving and receiving, without question or condition, as anyone else. Perhaps more so.
If they are in a place of self-centeredness, maybe the best thing for them is to have someone show them true kindness and giving from the heart, humbly and selflessly. It may be when they need it the most. Because hurt people hurt people.
Each of us is no better or worse than others – we are ultimately all made up of the same stuff. I have no right to judge whether another is worthy of receiving. I simply offer with heart open.
Helping without depleting myself
If I don’t have something first, I can’t give it to others.
Giving selflessly first requires healthy boundaries of self-care so that I am able to move forward without depleting myself while helping someone else. My spirit, when depleted, is a dangerous place to be.
If I am depleted, being of service to others will only deplete me more. When I am giving attention to self-care and honouring my own emotional boundaries, giving to others is enlivening and replenishing.
What depletes me today may energize me tomorrow, so it is important to remain mindfully present and check in honestly with myself in every situation.
Ability to help also depends on the urgency of what is needed. If I am asked to take a day off work to help a friend who is having a rough time, I may choose differently if their dog has fleas vs. a loved one passing away.
Getting out of my comfort zone
When I’m asked to help, am I thinking only of how helping someone else will affect me, good or bad? Am I imagining how great my reputation will be when people hear about it? Am I dreading how it will interrupt the comfort of my regular routine?
Or do I just show up, wherever and whenever I am able, in the spirit of helping another person’s well-being, regardless?
When fear arises and tells me to decline a request to help because I will not be adequate, will be criticized, will do further damage, or will be inconvenienced, this is self-centeredness. It reminds me to come back to a place of compassion and faith that I have all I need to assist others when I’m asked.
The key is in how I define and assess my ability to help. To refuse to help when I know I am able, or to offer to help when I know that I am not, are both rooted in self-absorption. True giving is not selfish nor self-absorbed.
If I still feel resistance to helping when I am asked, I keep looking deeper within.
Feeling unworthy to help
Am I afraid that I don’t have what it takes to help because of my low self-worth? My mind has a way of indulging my fears, making up a zillion different excuses for me not to help, masked as self-care.
Masked. As in, covered up. Disguised. A lie that tries to make it okay for me to remain self-absorbed and not reach out to others. My fear fuels the lie, which means I am not showing up to the world the way I was taught: with integrity, courage, kindess and trust that I have all I need at all times. If I am questioning myself or my ability to help, I am questioning a greater wisdom.
Just show up
So I pay attention and I hear the call to help. The call comes in different ways, in different situations, from different people. We’re all in this great big, giant schoolroom we call Earth together. We need each other. All of us.
When the time comes that I have the opportunity to help another, I have learned to just show up. Reach out to others’ outstretched hands and allow the universe to provide for them through me in whatever way is needed.
As I acknowledge the wisdom of the true spirit of give and take, I begin to understand what truly giving from the heart means.
Pause long enough to feel any fears that I am unworthy to assist melt away. Set aside self-importance, self-absorption, self-serving, self-centeredness. Simply trust and show up to helping, however I am needed, with all of my heart.
Give with no expectation.
Only compassion. Respect. Understanding.