Let’s describe two extremes:being totally self-centered and being totally other-centered. Neither is a goodplace to be.
We all have it in us to beself-centered. That is, after all, how life begins. Just attend to the care andfeeding of an infant if you have any doubts. Infants know their needs and willmake a ruckus until those needs are met. Some have described this as “theproblem of human existence.” Others have described our innate self-centerednessas “the original sin.” We think more of ourselves than anyone else.
Unfortunately, some peoplenever move far beyond this birth position. They go through life always thinkingof themselves. Their needs, desires, feelings, ideas, projects, security,income, and commitments take center stage. In conversation, they have preciouslittle time for other people’s stories or feelings. They work for themselvesrather than for the good of others or for the organizational vision. Groupsboth large and small tend to revolve around them. When solving problems,they’re quick to point the finger at others. They often play the role ofpersecutor.
Some people swing to theopposite pole. Instead of remaining self-centered, they become totallyother-centered. They insist on always doing things for others. In the extreme,they become co-dependent personalities. They feel responsible for everythingand everyone around them. They lack healthy boundaries between themselves,others, and the world. This often results in their becoming enmeshed inunhealthy relationships, both personal and professional, oscillating back andforth between the roles of victim and rescuer.
Between these two extremes liesa healthy balance that can be struck by asking yourself the simple yet profoundquestion, “Am I Helpful?” Whether you tend more toward self-centeredness orother-centeredness, this question has the power to bring you to a better place.
This may seem obvious for theself-centered personality. “Am I Helpful?” can make them think outside the egobox. Try this the next time you connect with a loved-one or a co-worker. “Am IHelpful?” Do my words and actions contribute to your well-being? Raise this tothe level of conscious intentionality and you may be surprised to learn howmuch time, energy, and resources you really have to give. Volunteer is not afour-letter word.
The same question can assistthe other-centered personality as well. This may seem surprising, since thesepeople spend their lives trying to help others. They are, in a sense, theconsummate volunteers. But are they really being helpful? “Am I Helpful?” canmake them think more deeply about the ways they seek to give of themselves toothers. It can, in fact, be the break-through question since helpfulness issuch an all-important virtue. It can bring them to a tougher, more-helpful kindof love. It can lead them to a better place to be.
I believe in taking care ofyourself. I also believe in being helpful. Some of the other questions in thisseries are designed to provoke a good, hard look at the question of self-care.The series would not be complete, however, if we failed to include this one.”Am I Helpful?” calls us to move beyond self-concern to a more transcendent andintegrated position based on the faithful conviction that in giving we receive,in losing we gain, and in helping we grow.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC