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Others before self, or vice versa?

September 7th, 2008 at 12:08 am

By now, even if you didn't watch, most of you are aware of some of the comments made at the Republican National Convention regarding, ahem, "community organizers."

The comments and laughter that accompanied them made me bristle. Despite still being young and having little experience, I feel as if I've been in the journalism field long enough to believe for myself that a politician is a politician, no matter what party s/he is affiliated with. In my mind, America has been built on the backs of those "community organizers," and we should all be thanking our lucky stars there are selfless people in our world.

But the more I poke around on financial boards, the more alarmed I become. While the boards here are mild by comparison, I've seen quite a few with, erm, vicious commentators. A baby no longer is a source of joy and happiness but a financial burden and albatross. The homeless people that line our streets aren't people to be pitied but to be looked down upon. People (people like me, apparently) who find themselves in debt because of wasteful spending are dumb and stupid, and don't deserve any sort of sympathy. And on ... and on.

What happened to others before self?

One of my personal heroes is S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-Fil-A. I feel a personal connection with Truett. He spoke at my graduation from a two-year college. I then transferred to a school where he has a leadership academy firmly in place. (There were tons of opportunities for free Chick-Fil-A!) And, as a reporter, I wrote about Truett once ... to thank me, he graciously sent a copy of his book, "How Did You Do It, Truett?" with a kind inscription.

The day he spoke at my graduation, he handed each of us graduated one of those shoe-shine brushes. This isn't an exact quote, but here is what he said to us: "Always remember, no matter what becomes of you or how successful you are, to take the time and shine someone's shoes." It serves as a reminder that no matter how high or low a person gets, we're never too good or too poor enough to not help someone out. I keep it here on my desk, next to my computer, and I'm looking at it as I type this.

To wind this up, I suppose I'm just looking for some opinions on this topic. As we're all saving, and the motto with each of our paychecks is "Pay yourself first!," do you sometimes wonder what happened to putting others first? Do you believe in putting others before self, or in taking care of your own needs first? Do you have to look at everything from a financial perspective? Does money really make the world go 'round?

No wrong answers, and I look forward to reading the opinions! :-)

(Oh, one more thing ... I know I started this by mentioning the RNC, but I'd really like to keep political debates out of this blog, at least for now!)

5 Responses to “Others before self, or vice versa?”

  1. disneysteve Says:

    There is also a well-known saying that charity begins at home.

    I'm a physician. I often encounter a patient who has been neglecting his or her own health (more commonly a woman in this situation). When I ask about that, the answer is usually that she has been busy taking care of others - an aging parent, an ailing spouse, caring for grandchildren because her own children are out of the picture, etc. I always gently point out to these people that if they don't start putting themselves first and taking care of themselves, they may find themselves in a situation where they are no longer able to help others.

    On a related topic, one of the first rules you learn in first aid and emergency response training is to make sure you are safe. You do nobody any good if you turn yourself into another victim. Jumping into a pool to save a drowning person is the wrong response.

    I think finances are no different. What good would I be to charitable causes if I didn't secure my own financial well-being first and foremost? To bring in a medical example again, I once had a patient tell me she couldn't afford her medication because after paying her bills and tithing 10% of her income, she didn't have enough money left. While it was a nice gesture to be donating 10% of her income, what good would it be if she succumbed to illness that could have been prevented by taking her meds and, perhaps, only donating 5% of her income.

    Another thought that has been mentioned on the boards before. Which is better? Donating a small amount of money each year now, while I'm alive, or building a larger portfolio and bequeathing a much larger amount of money to charity after I die?

    As for looking down on the homeless, I agree with you there. While it is true that many homeless have drug and alcohol problems or made other bad choices in life, that doesn't mean they aren't deserving of help. And those who are in debt certainly deserve the education and encouragement to get themselves back on track, which I think we do quite a lot of here at SavingAdvice.

  2. Apprentice Fun-Frugalist Says:

    Great reply disneysteve !! I know a woman (a relative) who has now passed on before her time in part due to the stress she took upon herself looking after her extended family. While she was doing this, the actual parent of the children involved was out partying and having a good time. What thanks did she get ? Nada. Zilch. Would it be better if she was still alive today to guide the family - if this meant taking a less hands-on approach ? Yes it would.

    The thing is...we are ALL human beings...me...you... Bill Gates... the sick... the homeless. Whether we see someone who is doing really well in life or really badly....that could easily be us... kinda "there but for the grace of God go I".

    So where is the logic in helping others before helping ourselves? I agree with disneysteve in that we are of no use to anybody else unless we, ourselves, are in good order. We need to make ourselves whole before we have anything leftover to give to others.

    e.g. if a homeless person with 10 dollars to his name saw a documentary about starving children in Africa he might think about giving 2 dollars to that cause. I would tell him "no man, look after yourself, get yourself back on your feet and then you might be able to give 100 dollars a month"

  3. fruitbowlk Says:

    I was that type of a person putting people first. And I got step all over. I have two family members who stop speaking to me because I stopped helping them pay there bills and start paying my own. They didnít care that I had a child that needed to be feed and diapers that needed to be brought. All they cared about was themselves. It didn't matter to them that I spent close to ten years helping them financially all they remember is that one time I said I couldn't help them financially. They didn't want advice how to help themselves. They wanted handouts. Just like I tell my husband you can't help others when you need help yourself. So I believe you should take care of you and yours first. I'm all for helping people but sometimes we are enablers and not helpers.

  4. sillyoleme Says:

    I agree with pretty much everyone, especially fruitbowlk.

    As disneysteve said, you have to take care of yourself so that you can HAVE something to help others with. It's different if you want to volunteer time, skills, etc... but when it comes to money, I look forward to when BF & I are financially secure enough to give regularly to charities, sponsor a child at Christmas, etc. But we've got to focus on helping ourselves first.

    And as fruitbowlk mentioned, too often "help" is turned into "enabling". I think there are some people who would never even try to help themselves (or "pull themselves up by their bootstraps") if they know that someone else is going to do it for them. Perhaps it's psychological, or maybe it's shaped from your life experience, but I know many people who find no shame in continually TAKING from others, without even trying themselves.

    I generally feel sorry for homeless people, except that in recent years, all I've heard is turning me the opposite way. BF's dad runs a bread route for a big bread company. Because they have laid other people off, he often works 60 hours/week getting up at 3 in the morning to drive a truck and unload heavy pallets of bread, all for the same salary as when he worked 40 hours/week. During one of his deliveries, he was accosted by a group of men in a poorer neighborhood, shouting that he should GIVE them the bread, because it was the "ghetto". Nevermind the fact that BF's dad is working 60 hours/week and getting up at 3am, while these men obviously had nothing better to do at 11 in the morning than harass the bread guy.

    And my mom was harassed in a Walmart parking lot by two homeless men saying they needed money. My mom, always trying to help someone, rolled down her window and told them that she had just noticed a restaurant was hiring a little bit down the road, and they proceeded to try and grab her purse from her lap.

    It's sad because the people that ask for help are often the ones that are just too work for it themselves, and the ones that are too embarassed to accept help are the ones who genuinely need it the most.

  5. ceejay74 Says:

    Self first, but others should ideally run a really close second. Smile
    I've stopped making charitable donations for the past year, and that is likely to continue for awhile. I realized I needed to get myself in order before I could more effectively help others. However, I'm going to try to get pregnant next year, and if I succeed I'm definitely going to at least find a small pocket in my budget to give to some charities. I can't bring another human being into this world without trying to make it at least a tiny bit better.

    If I don't get pregnant, well, I'm still going to make charitable giving a permanent part of my budget as soon as I feel my own situation is better.

    As for donating my time: well, I'm a little selfish in that regard, and am waiting to find a volunteer activity that really calls to me. I visited with an isolated old lady for a couple years, until she passed away, but that ended over a year ago. I can't decide what to do next. I'm so grateful to people who do give generously of their time and would never say a demeaning word (such as the ones you referenced above--that made me sick to my stomach too).

    I don't ever try to judge people who need help. They may or may not have weaker character or moral fiber than me. But even if they do and that's how they got themselves in trouble, how do I know what got them there? It may have been abuse, neglect, privation or an unlucky set of genes. There are too many factors for me to decide "Well this guy had every chance and blew it because he's a jerk." I'm not a perfect person but I'd hope almost anyone would give me a hand up if I fell down, without examining my every action.

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