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July 28, 2013

Contributing Caveats Part 1

by alive

Since I wrote my articles on Giving, Contribution and a Full Life Part 1 and 2, a few experiences and discussions  prompted me to talk about some caveats when it comes to giving.


breathless exerciseBecoming a giving person can be a tough process if you’ve never done it before. In fact it’s like starting an exercise program. If you haven’t exercised for years, you feel weak, get breathless easily, and ache the next day.  But as you persist, you begin to see results. Small results at first, but they give you just that little boost to keep going. Each new success motivates you to do more. Eventually, it becomes such a natural part of your Life like eating and showering, that you no longer notice it every time you do it.


But just as injury or illness can derail your exercise programme, your efforts to make contributing part of your Life can hit a roadblock if you have experiences that drain you or turn you off.


So,  just as we try to minimize injury potential, we should recognize potential leeches on your quest to contribution, and eliminate them swiftly and surely. In particular I want to talk about two things you should do to minimize potential unhappiness that can really affect your mood and motivation in this area.




I. Be a Loser of Users


PressureGiving is a great thing, and you hope – even briefly –  to make an impact and add to someone’s day. But you don’t want to be taken advantage of. It feels bad, and you could be using that time and effort to help someone else. Don’t allow yourself to be walked over or you won’t feel good about it.


There are a lot of nice people who don’t realize they’ve become someone’s tool.  And even when they do, they mistakenly feel that as long as they are helping someone, why not? After all that’s contribution too, isn’t it?


Here’s why not:

1. You are reinforcing the behaviour of these people that what they do works, gets results, and benefits them. So they continue to be selfish, and always look out for ‘nice’ people they can use. You are effectively training parasites to continue taking as a way of life, without giving to anybody else. By cutting them off you’re introducing a pattern interrupt that will make them think twice in the future.


2. Allowing users into your Life means you have less to give to those who truly need it. Most users could easily do for themselves what you do for them. They just need to invest more effort, time, and energy. Your resources are limited, whether it’s money or capacity for niceness, and shouldn’t be wasted indiscriminately. You do still want to have a full Life, don’t you? Then limit your slices and don’t welcome users, opportunists and manipulators to the table.

limited slices

3. The experience of being used can be so upsetting you lose the motivation to give altogether. Remember, the most basic idea is practising small AOKs that are almost effortless.  Users however have a way of squeezing so much out of you that you forget it’s about little things. I would rather do 10 small AOKs for 10 different people a day than do one or two major things for a user that drains all my resources in that same one day.


So how do you spot a user? It’s actually quite straightforward to diagnose.

Here are some examples.


Diagnoses and Treatments

Case Study 1

  • Symptoms: Someone you haven’t seen in a while suddenly calls you out of the blue, and makes small chat about old times. Keep an ear out for the “Oh by the way…” followed by the usual lead-ins to selling you insurance, MLM, borrowing money and so on.
  • Assessment:“Oh by the way” is usually doublespeak for “The real reason I called…” The person doesn’t really care about you. You’re someone he found after dusting off his rolodex or phone book he thought he could get something from.
  • Treatment: Politely decline, then hang up. Then use an app to divert/ block future incoming calls. Do not be trapped further with attempts like “Hey let’s meet up” or “I’d like you to meet some friends”.


Case Study 2

  • Symptoms: As a conversation progresses you realize the other person is only interested in talking about their problems and how you can help them. What you say about yourself doesn’t register at all. A few test questions elicit responses that show they have not been paying attention at all. You even drop in a couple of non sequiturs  (one of my favourites is: “My fever is 30ºC”) and they don’t immediately interrupt for clarification. Meanwhile the conversation keeps getting back them.
  • Assessment: They are pretend listening. Be on the ear out for responses during your side of the conversation, which are not intelligent statements but pause fillers like “Ah”, “Oh”, “I see”, “That’s interesting”, and “Wow”. Note how the conversation always finds its way back to the problems they’re facing, how disappointed they are with their girlfriend, and so on.

fake listener

  • Treatment: Change the topic by asking them directly for actual help, such as advice for a problem or even a massage for your sore shoulders. You’ll see how they try worming out of it. End the conversation quickly. If you realize they are people you’d rather not hear from again, end the conversation by asking to borrow money.


Case Study 3

  • Symptoms: Someone buys you something, but at the end of the interaction there is always some small request. Or, someone returns you some money or DVDs, but at the end of that encounter they always manage to leave with yet more money or other things.  Or in any outings someone might pay for small things, but in the end it’s always you paying for the large ones.

lending money

  • Assessment: Users like this know a bit of EQ. They try to soften you up a bit, so that you are more predisposed to being friendly (or even grateful). Then the other shoe drops. If they’re returning you something, they want you to know that whatever they take, they’re good for it, so they can borrow again. And if they buy you a gift, they want to make you feel overwhelmed with gratitude so that it’s hard to say no to whatever they come up with next.
  • Treatment: After receiving your gift, or item back, say thank you, then find reason to leave. For outings or meals, suggest you go dutch. Or pay first, then inform them that their share is… It takes thick skin to rub with thick skin and not get raw.


Case Study 4

  • Symptoms: Often happens when you become the victim of professional kindness, whether you’re a fitness consultant, a dance instructor, or lawyer. Sometimes, in giving professional expertise freely,  you encounter someone who just doesn’t know when to quit. For example, after offering a free snippet of advice, they may nibble away and ask you endless questions. Or if you are giving a 60min consult and go over by 10min out of good will, they show no inclination to stop and keep on milking. There are even people who ask you for things and not expect to pay you for it. 
  • Assessment: Maybe they really are true blue selfish, and just used to taking and tinch yardaking. Maybe they are just socially inept and don’t understand when to be satisfied and quit. The fact is, give them an inch, they’ll take a foot, and then a yard.
  • Treatment: Terminate the interaction before they take the mile too. Either way, be firm and polite, say that’s all the time you have for them, and they should get the message. If they don’t, offer to do a full (paid) consult.



What you’ll realize from my ‘treatments’ above, is that they are short and at times, harsh. Life is precious, and if you want to have a fulfilling one, you don’t have resources to waste on people who will wring you out in a long painful process. If you allow this to happen, you will be so unhappy and drained that you can’t focus on what’s really important in your Life. Even worse, you may be turned off helping more deserving people. That’s definitely not what you want, so shorten your adiós.


Eliminate users, and your journey to becoming a more giving person, and adding to the Lives of the good people around you, will be a lot smoother and more pleasant!


Next time we’ll look at the issue of backlash, or hostile reaction.





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