Wednesday, April 27, 2011


“You can’t have a perfect day without doing something for someone who’ll never be able to repay you.”
John Wooden

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I was having a conversation with a good friend last week.  We were talking about our lack of understanding for people who expect others to pick up the slack for them.  It seems that in today's world there is an abundance of people who seem to think it's everyone else's job to take care of things.  Is there really more of these folks or are we just noticing it more?  I just don't get it.

Here is an example:  My friend is working as the secretary of a non-profit organization.  There are  four employees in this organization with about five hundred members.  With so few paid employees, the organization is very much dependent on its members to volunteer to make things happen within the group.  There are a handful of people who are always there no matter what the task.  You can depend on them to make sure that things get taken care of.  Essentially there are about thirty-five real helpers.  The rest of the group loves to tell people that they belong to the organization but they never show up for the extra activities and only rarely attend meetings.  So, why belong?  What are they getting from their membership?

We all like to belong to groups.  It makes us feel a part of things, connected.  Sometimes we join because a friend invites us and we feel guilty if we say no, like their feelings will be hurt if we don't.  Sometimes we join because we feel we "should."  It's the right thing to do.  It's a good organization and they do good things.  Sometimes we join because our kids want us to or because the organization is for our kids.  How many of us join organizations because they are something we truly believe in and we want to be an active, vital part of?

My guess is that we all do...when we join.  We all have the best of intentions and join believing that we will give it our best.  And then life happens, we've said yes to so many things that there just isn't time in the day for all of them.  We try to do our part, but there is so little left to give that we fail miserably.  When that happens we feel badly and vow to do better the next time, but the next time comes and, again, we don't do well.  We begin to step back and do less, promise less.  We don't drop our membership because we really would like to be a part of it, but we just can't figure out how to make it all work.  Eventually, we become the members that come to a meeting once in a while and pay our financial dues when we can.
I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.
      Maya Angelou
It really comes down to being able to gauge for ourselves what we can reasonably do and what we can't.  There is nothing wrong with saying no.  In fact, it is more of a service to decline the opportunity.  Tell them that you support their efforts and that there may be times in the future when you could help with a particular project, but you just can't be a full-time member at this point.  You don't even have to give a reason; just say no.  You don't owe anyone an explanation. 

This is your life; you can only do a finite number of things and do them well.  You do yourself a disservice as well as those you agree to help when you stretch yourself too far.  But when you give of yourself, when you are able to do your best for someone or something else, you not only help them, you help yourself.  It's like a boomerang.  The more you do for others, the more will come back to you.  It really is amazing to watch as it happens.  And remember this, your children are learning those life lessons from YOU.  If they see you giving of your time and your energy to the things that you value, they will do the same.  They'll understand that life is about each of us giving to the other, supporting our lives, our loves, and our dreams. 

You be the teacher.  You be the example.  Teach them and get so much back in the bargain!

Harvey S. Firestone



Marion Williams-Bennett said...

This is an important and thoughtful post, thank you!

I have been guilty of this overcommitting, under delivering in the past. It's hard, you want so much to help, and there is so much need, yet realistically, what can you really really do?

I now focus my energies on one volunteer effort. One realistic effort. I give money when I can to the others. And at the end of the day, I feel good about what I am doing, how my efforts help.

What I love about the post is that it gives you permission to say no, to know that you are doing good by doing what you can. Thank you!

Ereline said...

Thanks so much for your kind thoughts! I think we women, in particular, have a hard time with this. We are doers and sometimes we need to just be be-ers. It's interesting that my Bible study this morning was also on this lesson. We discussed Martha complaining to Jesus that Mary wasn't helping her and she was having to do everything. The lesson is, for all of us, that what we do or don't do is a choice; a choice we must make that will benefit not only others, but us as well. We are to be humble servants, but we are supposed to humbly accept help from others as well. I'm pretty good at the first one, but I'm not so sure I'm good at the second. They say, practice makes perfect so I'll keep working on it. In this age of support groups, maybe we doers should start one-doers anonymous. What do you think?

Thanks again!
Best wishes!