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11 cold hard truths about helping others

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Mai Le

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Some brief thoughts came to my mind over the last few months about helping others that I jotted down in my journal. I thought it might be worth sharing. Before you are quick to impose a judgement of my cynicality; or write to me in horror “Who damaged you?!”, let it be known that I am a realist. By that, it means I look at the world with a cold head and always seek to understand the world for what it is, not what I want it to be. I believe the only enabler of progress is to be aware of the limitation of our perception, always relentlessly seeking the cold hard truths, and checking that perceived truth with other objective sources to validate my view of the world. Hence, these are my 11 cold hard truths I learnt about helping others.

1. You can help anyone, but you can’t help everyone.

With the default constraints in life, the most sustainable help is when you handpick the person that you’ll help to maximise your own goals. If helping a certain person doesn’t align with you, your life or your own goal, that help will very likely be short-lived.

2. (Relating to 1) Do not expect your help to be returned. Therefore, help someone that will result in a direct improvement of your end goal.

If you expect your help to be returned, life will get bitter very quickly.

3. (As a result of 1) More often than not, most interaction in life is transactional. If you want help from someone, tell them what is in it for them.

Give people reasons to help you. Earn that help. Sell your story and pitch the value proposition of why they should help you just like how you’d pitch any other products or ideas.

4. (Relating to 3) When you are asking for my time, you are asking for my money and my help.

Regardless of what form it is, a coffee, catch-up, phone call, meeting etc. – when you ask for my time, I treat it the same as if you are asking for my money and my help. Asking for time for ‘a quick coffee’ is deemed as valuable as asking me for $100 in my book. If you view your cold-approach this way, it will be evident why showing people what is in it for them is important.

5. Sometimes, the person who needs help the most is you.

Selflessness is only a self-acclaimed virtue. Helping someone to the extent that you can but never at the expense of yourself. Many are too delusional of the self-infatuation brought by helping others to realise that sometimes, the person who needs help the most is themselves.

6. If you want help and ask for it, it doesn’t mean you’ll get it.

It’s worth trying though, but do not be bitter about it. No one owes you anything.

7. (As a result of 6) If you try to make me feel bad about not helping you, you’ll be avoided like the plague.

Such emotional manipulation has no place in my book. Not that I think manipulation is bad, but if it is a game we are playing, I’d like it to follow my rules.

A child crying for attention is manipulation. Our appearances are manipulation. The entire mating process is based on manipulation. Adaptation is manipulation, allowing the organism to survive and procreate. About manipulation or any other morally-despised concepts, my philosophy has always been that things aren’t good or bad. They just are. It’s up to me to give them meaning. I recommend reading ’48 Laws of Power’ by Robert Green if you’d like to learn more about manipulation techniques. All Robert Greene expresses is how to manipulate common human behaviour. How one chooses to use this information is their choice. Remember:

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Hamlet, Shakespeare

Yet again – I can see through it when people try to manipulate me into helping them. It won’t happen – as we are playing by my rules. I will help you if I want to help you, not because you want me to.

8. Be grateful to those who help you.

They saw something in you, or in the interaction or relationship with you, that you most of the time couldn’t.

9. (Relating to 8) However, do not forget to question why you are so lucky.

Question those who help you and their agenda. What do they want in exchange and are you able or willing to repay that debt? It’d be naive, and almost egoistic, to believe they help you because of you, and without any prior motive.
Once you have a hypothesis about their agenda, check against other objective sources (e.g. their manifested actions) to ensure you’ve got a well-reasoned theory of why you’re helped.

10. Question yourself why you help others.

What’s your motive? Savior complex? Helping others give you joy or meaning? etc. Understanding your own agenda is more revealing about who you are than you think.

11. Not all help is created equal. Uncredentialed, or the wrong help, is worse than no help at all.

If you want to go South and the person is pointing you to go to the North, you will end up in a worse position with that help than where you started.

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Illustration by my friend Karl. 

I am active on Quora – Please follow me on Quora at https://www.quora.com/profile/Le-Quynh-Mai  for more writing. 

Written by Mai Le

My name is Mai. I am originally from Vietnam. After my university years at LSE, I worked in investment banking at Goldman Sachs. After a wonderful time there, I started several of my own business as well as helping others on theirs. I've always been building communities and businesses for as long as I can remember, and absolutely thrilled to see others enjoy what I've built.

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