Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Slight warning: I'm on a bit of a pre-bedtime rant. Apologies in advance.

Now, on with the show...

I live my life with the belief that people are fundamentally good, and generally want what's best for those around them. Which is why I am always rather disappointed when I encounter the odd person who seems so focused on his or her own needs that simplicities like saying thank you or dropping me an e-mail to let me know the time I spent proving aid was appreciated and resulted in [fill in outcome here] are completely forgotten.

Over the past few months, I've been burned by a couple of folks who I'll simply call "takers". I'm sure they didn't overtly set out to leave a bad taste in my mouth. But after taking time out of my life to help these folks in any way I could, I was nastily surprised to find out that I seriously overvalued my contribution to their respective lives.

I guess because I'm a writer with a fairly deep knowledge of technology, I'm often approached for help with resumes and job search coaching. I edit what's sent my way, counsel over the phone, via e-mail and IM, and generally do whatever I can to help them through a challenging time. I likely say yes too often, because it seriously cuts into what little free time I have. But I figure people appreciate it, so I do it.

Maybe my breath isn't up to snuff, but the e-mails from my temporary proteges seem to stop as soon as said individuals find employment. I often hear about their new jobs from others because they were clearly too busy to let me know they were hired on. Some of them seem to drift back into my purview only when they're seeking employment. As soon as they hitch up with a company, they forget I exist.

It ticks me off because I invested time in these people that could have otherwise been spent with my family. I'm also trying to add momentum to the rolling snowball that is my writing career, and time spent on unappreciative souls doesn't really help the cause, y'know? Consequently, I need to change my approach a little to preserve my sanity. Here's how it'll work:

I'll continue to help. It's in my blood. I can't say no to someone who needs a boost when I clearly have the skills to help him/her out.

I will, however, have zero tolerance for "takers". Show any sign of being a one-way receiver and I can guarantee you it'll be the last time you receive any assistance from me. I'm not being mean: I'm only being fair to my wife and kids, who clearly value every second we spend together, and who end up getting ripped off when I waste my time on self-centred boobs.

I'll feel guilty, because my nature almost compels me to set my annoyance aside so I can help anyway. But such is life when there's only so much of me to go around, and not everyone has the vision to realize that being appreciative and nice is really quite a bit simpler than they were raised to believe.

I have some questions for you to ponder:
  • How do you handle self-centredness when it rears its ugly head?
  • Do you take the passive-aggressive stance and say nothing?
  • Do you cut the SOBs off?
  • Do you confront them?
  • Why/why not?
  • What strategies for handling "takers" have you developed in your own life?
Please do tell in the comments section below!

If you're reading this and you recognize yourself as one of my "takers" (doubtful, given most of you seem so intent on your own needs that you pay no attention to the little details of others, but nevertheless possible given the ubiquity of the Web) I apologize for causing the flushed cheeks that you're feeling right about now. Next time, show a little grace when someone extends a hand. And if you ever have the opportunity to help someone else out, consider taking it. You might learn something about yourself in the process.

There, I've vented, and I already feel better. Thank you for allowing me this catharsis.


"Cielito" said...

Hello neighbor
I am a very selfish person and I rely on the kindness of friends and strangers so I read your post with interest.

I assume that when you give assistance to people, it's not just a one-time deal--they call you again and ask for more advice, help, time, etc. because they know you'll say yes. Believe me, as a very accomplished selfish person, I know whom to ask.

Anyway, since you're going to help people anyway, do it once. And then when they ask for more you may try a riff from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: I'm going to paraphrase from p. 157

"I'd love to help you out. Just let me share with you my situation. I have just committed to my wife/kids/mother/ to spend 6 hours this week helping them to learn underwater brain surgery. If I meet with you that will reduce the time by a 1/2 hour. I want to be my word with them. What do you suggest?"

You're not saying no straight out but you're leaving it to them to decide to compromise your integrity with your family. har har. What real friend would do that?

Let me know what happens!

Joan said...

1. When I encounter selfish people, I usually hope it's a one time occurance. However, if I extend myself again and I'm met with selfishness again, I back away.

2. I don't neccessarily think that not saying anything is passive-agressive, per se. If a person is selfish, telling them they are will usually not be met with thankfulness that you shared that with them. However, if a person asks, point blank, why have you quit helping me, or something along that line, then I share with them.

3. I am slowly but surely learning the art of backing away, which is what I choose to do instead of cutting them off. I leave my door cracked, because people do have the ability to change, however I like to be able to see the change before I open my door wide again.

4. See #2

5. See #2

6. I'm still learning. I love to be helpful to people and like you, I assume that everyone is fundamentally good until they prove me wrong. I'm finally coming to a place where I feel comfortable enough to realize that my time and gifts are valuable and if they are disregarded, I need to back away.

You are such a kind and giving person, Carmi. Know that this random woman in Georgia really appreciates you! :-)

Jef said...

Carmi, I have often felt like you feel now. In fact, I even blogged about my friend, code name Kiki, a few weeks ago.

I have finally come to the point in my life where I recogize that if I put expectations and judgments on other people, I will only be disappointed, angry, etc. Most people do the best they can with where they are in their lives.

If I'm going to set expectations for others, I try to let them know my expectations in advance.

If someone has disappointed me, I will usually speak with them about what I was expecting from them if I really care about the person and want to continue to have them in my life. Sometimes I have recognized that there are a few people I have outgrown and they're not going to understand what I'm saying even if I tried to explain.

I've learned to say no to people who have continued to steal my time without any appreciation. I'm not saying that someone has to give back to me what I gave to them each time, but if I continue to give to them when I have been disappointed in the past, I have no one to blame but myself. I have no problem saying that I have other people and things that take priority over them.

Finally, I don't do everything for everyone anymore. I'm much more apt to teach someone to fish than give them fish. Why should I do all the work?

These people are in your life for a reason and they will continue to repeat their behavior until you change the way you repsond to them.

Mellie Helen said...

I like Cielito Lindo's comment about putting it on their hearts. Now, if the the requesters are indeed super selfish, they will suggest you get their item done in a hurry ("Oh, it won't take long!") prior to you completing your commitments to your family. Tell them, "Oh, I'm sorry, but my schedule won't presently allow me to provide assistance. You might try A, B, or C instead." And the truth is, regardless of your actual "schedule", your #1 commitment is to your family, so they automatically take precedence.

But if they are generally thoughtful, but presently desperate, they then might say something like, "I understand; is there another resource to which you can direct me?" -- that's not someone to close the door on.

As to the absent expressions of gratitude: try sending them an email or letter, saying something to the effect of, "Hey, I heard you got hired at XYZ company. That's great news! Did the help I provided effectively assist you in obtaining the position? Please do let me know, so I can continue to help others effectively as well." For those well-intentioned folks who just hadn't "gotten around" to notifying you, it'll start a fire under their heinie to shower you with the forgotten thanks. For those who were just plain ol' users, you won't hear a word, and you may cross them off your list without guilt.

hugh said...

Eh. I think this is just something all writers have got to learn eventually... and it's painful.

Like the old saying goes, "Education is expensive".

I write something about it here:




Moogie said...

These are some well thought out questions.

1. How do you handle self-centredness when it rears its ugly head?

Mostly, with a shrug and an oh well. If it really bothers me, I distance myself from the person, and generally try to avoid further contact.

2. Do you take the passive-aggressive stance and say nothing?

Generally, yes. I have a quick temper. One that is over as soon as it starts, if you will. Over time, I've learned that I help people, because I want to. It makes me feel good to share my knowledge, and even better, that they would want to ask me for help. I have realized that even if I did "say" something, the situation will not change. They will always be a taker.

3. Do you cut the SOBs off?

If I am bothered enough by past behavior I will generally bow out, using the excuse of being otherwise engaged in something else, and not having the time.

4. Do you confront them?

Generally, no. Sometimes certain situations warrant at least an attempt at letting them know how much their actions, or lack of actions, such as it were, bother me. I have realized that even if I do say something to them, it won't change who they inherently are. Forcing them to acknowledge my help, tell me the aftermath, etc...does not make me feel better. It has to come from the heart.

5. Why/why not?

See #4

6. What strategies for handling "takers" have you developed in your own life?

I think I've pretty much covered that area in the above answers. If it really bothers me, I just don't help them any more. Some people will always be takers. And some of those are my friends. It's just how they are.

It's really hard for me to understand how someone can take on the role of a "taker." I am so much the opposite. If you were to help me say, write an essay (edit, ideas, constructive criticism), I would be so all over you before, during and after (not in the literal sense, sorry) you would probably think I was stalking you. But that was the way I grew up. I don't often ask for help. And when I do, I'm ever so grateful to those who take the time to give it to me.

I'm not sure, but I think I've just blogged on your blog. Sorry about that. Very good post and it got my brain moving this morning.

Misc Debris said...

I have had my recent bouts with a taker. One was a former roommate and the other an old college acquaintance. In both cases I did what I could and eventually broke it down for them in a way that allowed them to see that they were simply perpetuating their own misery for reasons that were well beyond my ability to solve them.

In fact, the real issue was not that they were seeking solutions at all! In most cases, their own narcissism required a co-dependent (me) to perpetuate their misery. I am always willing to help those who seem to be taking measures to help themselves. In some rare cases, people simply find ways to continually fall into repeated patterns and there is a cycle of dependency there that my continued assistance would eventually act as a reinforcement to their behavior.

* How do you handle self-centredness when it rears its ugly head?

To me, self centeredness exists as a response to a bruised ego and is there for a reason. I try to understand the root cause of this self-centeredness and do what I can to bring it to their attention. People who badger you to ‘do this’ or ‘do that’ are in effect trying to accomplish more than those silly little menial tasks. They simply want someone to ‘be there’ and ‘help them’ in order to feel a greater sense of security. Personally, I am a push-over. I do everything I can to accommodate, but eventually I myself have a breaking point.

* Do you take the passive-aggressive stance and say nothing?

Yes. I hate that I do this, but I do it. Eventually I do say something. It must be done. For their sake as much as yours.

* Do you cut the SOBs off?

Eventually I might. Sometimes I think that pawning them off to others works too. I can always tell when my taker friends are not doing well in their relationships as they come around and start asking for stuff. But once they are ‘happy’ again, then I am tossed back into the sea. It is a reactionary way they live.

* Do you confront them?
* Why/why not?

Yes. Because it is my obligation to do what I can, but eventually there is a point when my help is more a hindrance to their growth and sense of personal responsibility than and aid.

* What strategies for handling "takers" have you developed in your own life?

Everyone is different and it is hard to develop a single strategy. For me, I sometimes find people to take to be fascinating as they allow me to really investigate my own neediness, and develop strategies to bring awareness not only to my own self-centeredness, but to their own.

twenty something said...

When I was younger and in school, I used to be the "go-to girl" on homework and schoolwork. And I just couldn't say no to anyone. And the kids that I would help would get my answers, do well in their classes, and I would never hear from thm again. It's a horrible feeling Carmi.

But I learned one thing - how NOT to take it personally.

Carmi said...

Hi everyone. You have once again blown me away with your thorough and erudite responses to my post. This little community of bloggers never ceases to amaze me, and it is indeed a great thing to be a part of. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. (And if you still want to add your comments to the list, go for it!)

Veda e-mailed this to me because Blogger was being its usual cantankerous self. I'm happy to paste it here on her behalf:

Carmi, I tend to be a bit self-centered myself, but always show appreciation where it's due, so maybe I can give you some extra insights? Let's see...

1-I handle self-centeredness (in others) very straight forwardly. "Hey, that thing I worked with you on, how did it pan out?" That's when I'm lucky enough to remain in contact. Otherwise, for helping people that I'm not in general contact with (not common), I will look for the appreciation that they somehow can't speak of, in their voice-tones, a light in the eyes, something like that. A sign that what I've done has helped them out and that can be enough sometimes.

2-Not typically, no. But I don't jump into jerk-mode, either. Just a simple comment (see above) can usually do the trick. If I feel I've gotta fish for an answer though, I'll mention some of the things I missed out on while helping said-blind-one. "Yano, I was supposed to do (this) that day and I really wished I could've."

3-I have. Again, because most of the people I deal with are fairly permanent in my life, I have to deal with them again at some point. And then, we either will hash it out or the appropriate, civil, one to two line statements will pass, reconciling the situation. Anyone that I knew I'd never have to deal with again unless by my own choice, (and there've been some) indeed, I've written off.

4-Absolutely, when possible. I will not go out of my way (again!) to do so, if it's obviously not worth it.

5-I have to deal with the "permanents." (family, old and close friends, etc) As for the "run in-s" I don't feel so obligated to them. They're obviously not obligated to me, why should I feel any dire need to teach them manners? They'll cross the wrong person somewhere in life that will teach them the hard way. I am not her and don't choose to be her.

6-I grew up with them, so I could likely go on and on! Placate them. Give them the verbal information (sans demo) of what to do, how to fix their problems, then let them work the rest out for themselves. Offer to them the connections to do what they want to do, never hinting that you could do it yourself. If they know you could, site actual alternatives that you'll be spending your time doing, rather than helping them. Let's them know you see what they're after and that they are not worth your time. (this really pisses them off, if that's what you'd want most to do).

Overall, I had to learn the hard way a few times. Now I think I go overboard with gratitude sometimes, but really, how is that possible anyway? :) Once the "takers" see the light, they begin working to better themselves. So, for you, I guess you need to decide if you want to be that "wrong person" to teach the hard lesson or not. (Also, keeping in mind that truly busy lives sometimes view as indecent people.)

Also, never feel guilty for doing what is honorable. Your family is first, always. You already know that, I can see it. Don't allow for others, esp. those "run in-s" to make that anything but right. Ever!

Hope this helped...

The Misanthrope said...

Takers are everywhere. I try to be philosophical and think how I possibly made a difference (hopefully positive) in that person's life, whether they acknowledge it or not.

HippyChix said...

I can relate to this a great deal, I am a very giving person and have been taken advantage of on more than one occasion (more like a million ..lol) The resentment and anger it builds within me has been devastating. To feel like you are giving and not getting anything back is horrible.

It made me really look at the reasons behind my giving, and the expectations that went along with that. It changed how I felt about giving to others, because I realized that for it to be truly a 'gift' it had to be given without expectation. If I could not give it without expectation, then it wasn't giving, it was negotiation.

When I began to see it this way, it relieved a great deal of the pain for me, relieved me of the need to indulge in the passive/agrees ive behavior that I'd always indulged in previously. It helped me to be more honest about what I needed, what I wanted, what I expected. It changed how I interact with others, and it made the gifts I give mean more.

But the awareness of intent also gave me something else, it allowed me to clearly see those who were going to just take and never think about giving back. When I started to see my own expectations, I began to see everyone else's much easier, and it allowed me to make better choices about whom I offered to help.

Not that I don't still help people who will not give back, but it helps me to be aware that I will get nothing from it, that this is truly a gift. It also protects me from those who will bleed me dry because in this awareness, I learned how to be more honest about my feelings and how to say no. I learned that I simply can't give away what I don't have, and that it's ok to not try sometimes.

It may seem a little selfish, but there is a difference between selfishness and self-care. I was not helping anyone when I was caught up in the cycle of give/resent/withdraw/try again.

There is also my belief in the Divine that plays into this, that I get everything I need from there, and that everything I give comes back to me somehow. Maybe not from the person I give it to, but the payoff comes, tenfold. It eases the pain of feeling I am getting nothing to realize that I have so much. Looking at the bigger picture, always.


Lou said...

And how do you handle so much self-centredness when it's your paid job to do so? I've spent 45 minutes or more trying very hard to help someone out when it's obvious that their machine is toast and kneeds more help than I can provide. In return I get yelled at because "I don't understand, I HAVE to fix it"

Motivation of biweekly paycheque only goes so far.
Rah, Rah, Carmi I've always appreciated your views on my life and those of others. You're one of the lone good guys.

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