Although most of us don't mind doing favors now and then, hardly anyone wants to make a career of it. Unhappily, some people have no qualms about inconveniencing others if doing so helps them achieve their goals. People like this need no encouragement to try to make us their personal servants. Once they've zeroed in on us, we may be asked to do almost anything: provide transportation, repair plumbing, groom a dog, run errands, make a loan, or perform thousands of other unwelcome activities.
When we have exhausted our largely ineffective stock of delaying tactics and feel we have no choice but to give in to their requests, we do it sullenly, resenting those we feel unable to refuse and despising ourselves for our weakness. Although helping these people may give us some pleasure initially, our good feelings vanish when we finally realize we are being used.
Just what are our obligations when others seek our help? Obviously, there is no "one-size-fits-all" answer. While it would be unwise to thoughtlessly agree to do whatever others ask, it would be unkind and unfeeling to automatically refuse their requests.
What shall we do then, the next time we're asked for a favor and are uncertain whether to grant it? Here are some guidelines to make our decisions much easier:
1. Assess the relative importance of what you're asked to do.
While some people ask for assistance only when matters are serious, others have no qualms about wasting our time on trivia. It is simpler, therefore, to learn to categorize another's request for help as either a need or a want.
Once we've made this distinction, we may agree to drive across town to pick up someone's medication, but we won't play chauffeur for someone searching for a lampshade in exactly the right shade of pink. When we are clear on the differences between needs and wants, we are less likely to let others' persuasiveness triumph over our common sense.
2. Put your own needs first.
Those who told us it was selfish to put our personal welfare before others' may have believed they were giving us sound advice, but unless they were trying to prepare us for sainthood, they were not. Although self-sacrifice sounds noble, it is impractical and potentially disastrous. Since we can't rely on others to look out for us, we must do it ourselves, which means making our personal requirements our highest priority.
Only when we can adequately provide for our own needs will we be in a position to help those who can't. It is good to remember that although we may not be the most important person in the world, we are the most important person in our world.
3. Don't help people who are able to help themselves.
There is an ocean of difference between those who genuinely require help and those who could handle matters themselves but prefer not to. When we help people who don't need it, we encourage their dependency and let them believe they can avoid responsibility for their lives.
Although we may face objections when we refuse to help the able, in the long run everyone comes out ahead when people learn to take care of themselves. Keep in mind that sometimes not helping people is a greater favor than coming to their aid.
4. Stop being nice when you don't feel like it.
We are not obligated to do things for people merely because they ask us. If we are asked to do something we'd rather not, we are free to say no. Not only will this increase our self-respect, it will increase others' respect for us.
When we have trouble refusing, we are easily victimized and are often looked on with contempt. If we do not say "Yes" every time we are asked, people will be more appreciative of our help when we give it.
5, Pay no attention to your popularity rating.
Some of us are afraid to be firm or assertive because we think others will dislike us or become angry, and, of course, it is possible they will. But those who resent our standing up for ourselves aren't the kind of people who will be our friends, anyway. They are only interested in our welfare to the extent that it affects their own. Trying to please others won't make us well-liked -- just overworked and under-appreciated.
6. Don't solve problems people have created for themselves.
When someone's life seems to consist of a series of disasters, it's often because he creates problems for himself through lack of planning or lack of concern for consequences. Unfortunately, people who are in the habit of creating problems rarely want our advice, just our assistance. Helping those with self-created problems is usually a waste of time and effort because unless people are allowed to experience the effects of their actions, they have little reason to change them.
7. Don't help people who can help you in return, but don't.
If past favors remain unreturned, we have no obligation to perform any more. One-way streets are for traffic, not human relationships. And don't naively assume that sooner or later the person asking will guiltily realize he's already asked too much and apologetically cease his requests. Chances that this optimistic scenario will ever take place are more than a million to one. Those who continually ask favors of us and fail to repay them don't think of us as a fellow human being but as a somewhat useful object, like an umbrella or a toaster.
8. Treat your family members like people.
Some of us have been afflicted with relatives who believe that their kinship entitles them to behave inconsiderately and unreasonably. Respond to them as you would to any non-family member. Close relationships should be a source of love and happiness, not an excuse for exploitation.
It is helpful to remind ourselves that family members are human beings first and relatives second, and we should judge their requests on their merits, not their location on the family tree. It is true blood is thicker than water, but it's also considerably more expensive.
9. Avoid compromising your ethics or principles.
At one time or another most of us have been asked to lie or falsify information for another person and have felt uncomfortable at the idea of doing it. This kind of request puts us in an awkward position; we don't want to anger the person making it, but neither do we want to do something that is contrary to our principles.
Be clear about this: no one has the right to ask us to compromise our ideals, values, conscience, or reputation. Those who do are thinking only of themselves.
10. Set a realistic limit to your giving.
"Give till it hurts" is poor advice, whether it pertains to our time, money, or energy. If we deprive ourselves of necessities in order to give to others, we are likely to become resentful toward those we help when we realize our gifts are prompted by guilt rather than generosity.
A better and more realistic motto would be, "Give as long as you enjoy it, and stop when it causes you pain." If we establish limits before a favor is asked of us, we will be in a much better position to say "No" when we should.
Essentially, there are three things we can do to protect ourselves from unreasonable requests.
First, become familiar with the ideas listed above.
Second, learn to apply them to requests others make of us (and maybe even to requests we make of others). By taking these two steps, we will acquire the mental clarity needed to eliminate many irritating and inconvenient activities from our lives and gain the courage to refuse unreasonable demands.
Third, we must learn to appreciate our value as a human being and increase our self-esteem and self-respect. When we are conscious of our true worth, we will automatically be a staunch advocate for our own rights.
While it is great to be able to give help to others when they genuinely need it, where do we draw the line? Does being compassionate mean we must bend over backward when others ask us to or that we must assist in solving everyone's problems or gratifying their desires? Definitely not. When helping others causes problems for us, it is time for a careful review of ourselves and our objectives.
Life is infinitely more pleasant when we possess the ability to comfortably refuse unreasonable or inconvenient requests. If we'd like to refuse obligations that aren't really ours and want to avoid feeling angry and resentful when people don't respect our needs, we must keep one important fact in mind: If we don't acknowledge and respect ourselves and our needs, neither will anyone else.
1) Practice saying "No." Say it aloud, say it in your mind, and say it to yourself in the mirror. Mentally recreate past situations where you should have said no but didn't, and imagine repeating the situation, but firmly and finally saying no. Remember that, in declining to do things you don't want to do, you're being truthful and honest and increasing your self-respect.
2) Make a list of five or six phrases that are polite but nonetheless clearly and truthfully state that you decline to do what is being asked of you. Say these phrases over and over each day until you feel thoroughly comfortable saying them. Begin with something such as, "I'm afraid I've made other plans," or "I'm sorry, but it won't be convenient to do that."
3) Establish your personal standards for essential and non-essential requests. (It may be a good idea to put this list on paper so you can review it at intervals, if necessary) Here are some questions that can help you make up your mind.
* Is the situation an actual emergency?
* Would the one asking me be willing to repay me in some manner if he or she were able?
* Will helping cost me money or time I can't afford to spend?
* Is my assistance being asked for a "need" or a "want"?
* Am I being asked to do something those asking can do themselves?
* Will helping be an inconvenience for me?
* Is it something I genuinely dislike doing?
* Am I being asked to help someone solve a self-created problem?
* Will doing what I'm being asked to do violate any of my personal rules for living?
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Arnford House, Vanzant, MO, USA. ©1999.
Wising Up: How To Stop Making Such A Mess of Your Life
by Jerry Minchinton.
Using reality based scenarios with multiple-choice responses, Jerry Minchinton address the values, beliefs and expectations that are at the heart of our personal problems. In Wising Up, he shows the reader how to identify their personal problem-solving "level"; avoid setting themselves up for problems; solve problems quickly and effectively; eliminate many problems permanently; prevent problems before they start; replace unrewarding behavior with satisfying options; and think about old problems in new and more helpful ways. Wising Up is "reader friendly" and a highly recommended addition to the self-help bookshelf and reading list. -- Midwest Book Review