On Really Helping a Friend Succeed

Monday, May 15, 2017

Back in December, Business columnist Suzanne Lucas considered a common Christmastime request coming from friends, or friends-of-friends, pushing us to buy from small businesses they know about. She titles her column, "How to Make Your Friends Rich (Without Spending a Dime)," and she addresses why such requests aren't as helpful as they might seem:

... The thought is noble--you're going to spend money anyway, why not help out a friend? Well, not everyone's business sells things that are appropriate for holiday presents (Hey, honey, I got you this article about management!), and sometimes we may be cash poor ourselves. And often, your friend sells something fabulous, but you don't need it...
Lucas was kind enough not to mention that such requests are often awkward (and even borderline rude) for such reasons, but the real kindness was in what she did about them: She asked several entrepreneurs what they would appreciate friends and acquaintances doing -- and not doing. One item describes the right way to become part of a virtual sales team:
Chad Naphegyi, Moveologist, Relocation Strategies: Chad says: "Be an advocate for each other's business and part of each[ other's] virtual sales team, simply by mutually networking for each other. Not saying make my sales pitch by proxy, or just feeding cold leads...but simply keeping an ear out for opportunities and potential synergies and confidently giving warm introductions to them. Eliminates a cold call, which we all hate receiving... 'I have a friend (or former colleague) that I believe you will find it mutually beneficial to connect with regarding your....'" [link omitted, bold added, minor edits]
This and all the other points were excellent advice, and all offer the kind of long-range support that a few one-off purchases don't provide, anyway. I especially like the last tip, too, as it is good etiquette to follow regarding anyone you might know who works from home.

This advice, as worthwhile as it is, caused me to have an interesting thought about the ideas of charity and helpfulness so pervasive in our culture. Most people perform such things ritualistically, and tinged with a mixture of annoyance and guilt. This all comes in various ways down to the pervasiveness of altruism as our society's dominant code of morality. The idea that we have no right to exist for our own sakes is impossible to practice consistently, so most people evade it most of the time. This induces guilt, especially at times when most of our intellectuals urge us towards their notion of the good. And that leads to guilty attempts to make amends, such as by charitable donations or one-off purchases like these in the name of helping someone who "needs" it. And the fact that this is (a) associated with guilt, and (b) has nothing to do with long-range goals leads to both resentment and a desire to put it back out of one's mind.

By contrast, selfishness, the opposite of altruism, is hardly inimical to the idea of helping others -- others one values and cares about. As an egoist, I must say that I find the common idea and practice of charity I described in the paragraph above appalling, and for many reasons besides the one exemplified by the perfunctory, once-a-year rituals so many people perform. But one thing stands out to me here: A real friend who actually wanted to help another succeed would put much more thought into doing so than making a half-hearted, one-off purchase. I have been fortunate enough to have many such friends over the years, and this column has reminded me to be on the lookout for chances to be such a friend myself in the future.

The desire to offer genuine help from others comes from benevolence. It is interesting to consider how the idea that we must help others debases the quality of this help and can snuff out the emotion that motivates it.

-- CAV

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