October 29, 2007 3 Comments
When a friend needs help…do you? Always? For as long as it takes? No matter what? How can you not!
This is more than philosophic musing. I have been engrossed with these thoughts since a good friend of mine raised similar questions as he has been giving of himself to a close friend of his.
Frank is a very good man dealing with a formidable situation. In addition to running a successful business and being part of a family with two teenage boys he is helping a friend. The word “helping” actually does not begin to describe the commitment of time as well as physical and emotional energy. And yet for those who believe that there is a right way to live, there is no real choice. One does what one has to do. He wrote about it. What Would You Do If a Friend Needed Help? Gets right to the point. You help in every way you can. Frank is the true ubermench.
But are there…should there be…must there be limits to what you give of yourself? After all, some situations can be or at least appear to be a black hole. No matter what you give it gets sucked in and still there is darkness. Progress if it comes at all comes slowly and often situations get much worse without any visible path to better. We all have others that need us as well. Can we give to one at the cost of not being there for another in our lives? And what about us? If we give so much that we have little left, then what? Should we not preserve ourselves?
Bill took this on in a comment to Frank. It is worth repeating here. Bill is the closest person to a philosopher that I know. (If there were an election for philosopher king instead of president, Bill would be leading the polls.) His guidance to Frank:
“We live in a world of scarcity. We live among men and women of innate volition. We are temporal.
At some point, you need to choose how much of yourself you can invest in rectifying a given scarcity and a given decision. Because you are scarce too. You are temporal too. Some of you can be invested, even in a losing cause because it is the right thing to do, but there are other right things that also need to be reserved for.
Your own peace, development and happiness are worth reserving for.”
I was so moved by both these men that it has taken weeks before I could write about this. I very much agree with Bill’s words. I have seen people give until they had nothing left. There is a line to be drawn that allows each of us to give without losing ourselves. I am not one to give advice to Frank or anyone else. And yet..
Once you accept that there is such a line, how does this affirmation change the way you think or behave about helping your friend? Do you stop? No. Do you do less? If so, how much less? How much do you pull back when the need continues to be strong. What if you just gave your all for another day, week, month? How would you feel if something went irreversibly wrong and maybe something you could have done would have made a difference. While we are temporal and scarcity abounds, do we not get comfort from what we do for others? Are we not temporal but renewable as well. Astounding amounts of energy are, at times, generated by the process of doing good.
There was a time in my life where I gave a lot of myself to a friend in need. At the time I was single so there were fewer demands on me and yet by most people’s definitions this was a huge commitment. At times it drained me. At times I was frustrated, hurt or confused. Yet I am convinced that I played a role in getting this friend and her child to the other side. there was a reward for the efforts but at many times along the way I was going on hope and faith.
I thought the same thing then as Frank does now. It is how I was brought up. What surprised me at the time was that some people thought I was doing something strange instead of something wonderful. I did what I thought was right. I am OK with that. Another opportunity for giving is on its way as my mother ages and the responsibility for my autistic sister begins to fall more to me and my other siblings.
The only conclusion that I can think of after all of this philosophic exploration is that Frank is right and Bill is right. However, what makes Bill “the most right” is not the specific words he shared but that he is there for his friend as his friend does for another. To me that is the bottom line.
We all need friends and family who are looking out for us.