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November 26, 2014

Why Should I Help You?

by alive

Short Take: Contribution/ Giving


Recently I wanted a private lesson for salsa. Having been away from dance a long time, I was in danger of losing all I’d picked up this year. So I had to find a partner, and FAST.


Dance shoesA quick explanation of private lessons. In partner dancing, you generally go for group classes. When you want to accelerate your progress you take private lessons. It’s like a personal training session, where you get individual attention: clearing doubts, correcting mistakes, and honing individual skills. After training clients of my own, it’s good to be on the receiving end!


For private lessons, this partner has to be at the same skill level or higher, willing to give time, expend energy, and travel to the studio after a day’s work. This is for an hour lesson in which she will probably learn little if anything.


Therein lies the rub.


It’s not easy to find a partner. It’s actually asking a lot. It doesn’t end with a yes. Date and time for her, me, the instructor, and studio availability must be aligned. It can be a logistics nightmare.


I am lucky to meet good and generous people. This time for instance, I found someone who is not only working but doing a part-time Masters as well. Yet she was willing to help me despite a busy schedule and not knowing me well.


In fact I have been blessed by many people who have contributed to my little salsa adventure. Many of them hardly know me. Some still don’t. None have ever asked me for anything in return, even years later.


But I’ve met selfish people too. One stands out from the rest because not only would she never help me, she said something that has stuck in my mind even though it was so long ago. Sometimes it happens… a single sentence inspires your actions even years later.


It transpired that we went out for a few dates, and I had to know why she would never help. Her reply?
“I didn’t know you well. Why should I help you?


That sentence stunned me, but it was a wake up call. I’ve never taken for granted the generosity of good people. What I sometimes forget is that there are selfish people to whom the idea of helping others without gain is completely alien. Indeed, it even carries a negative association of obligation. Compulsion. “Should”.


There is no SHOULD in helping people. Helping people and contributing to others’ Lives is something you CHOOSE to do.


Let me give you an example that happened long ago.


Reading my blog, you probably know I have a great interest in relationships because they are so important to a Full Life.


At that time I was interested in one particular aspect. Observations and experiences of myself and others had shown that when one person has a deep passion – in some cases an obsession – about something and the other does not, they can drift apart. And in partner dance, where physical touch and connectedness is the norm, the potential for temptation, infidelity, and susceptibility to players is higher. I wanted to learn if it was possible for someone who is a passionate dancer to have a meaningful, loyal relationship with someone who is not.


It so happens that one of our top dancers was once in a relationship with one of the best dancers in Singapore, but is currently with a non-dancer. I felt that she was in a unique position to give me the information I wanted, but there were challenges.


Firstly she always seemed to be a private person. Secondly the only interactions we’ve had were a few disastrous dances thanks to my poor ability. Thirdly the topic I wished to broach was highly personal. Fourthly she actually has a Life and job outside dance that keeps her super busy. And finally, as one of the best dancers in Singapore she has a level of celebrity that compounds all the previous difficulties I listed.


The reason I mention this is to show that if ever there was anyone who had zero obligation, compulsion, potential gain, or SHOULDs to help me, it would be her.


Yet, when I took a risk and wrote her, asking my questions, explained why I wanted to know, and what knowing meant to me, she responded. Not just in the short dismissive sentences you get from people who condescend to reply but really have better things to do. Valuable insight, honest and vulnerable answers, and words of encouragement pertinent to my own experiences.


Why did she help me? There was certainly no “should” about her actions. Helping me was a choice, made not out of any obligation, or expectation of anything in return because there is nothing I could possibly give her in the only arena I know her.


She had the knowledge and experience I needed. I requested help. She gave it.


That question has stuck with me, not just because of its unashamed selfishness, but also because it reminds me to try to live with generosity and kindness. Helping someone, contributing to their lives in a positive way is a CHOICE and a GIFT. But it is also a PRIVILEGE. It means that through good fortune, fortuitious circumstance, or just hard work, you have come to a position where you can add to someone’s Life – even if it’s just some happiness by helping them get better at salsa.


So if ever someone asks for my help, be it my time, effort, energy, advice, experience… and that question crosses my mind:


Why should I help you?


I hope my immediate answer to myself will be:


Because I can.

 Creative altruism

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