Growing up there was a story that was read to me in school called; ‘The giving tree’. The book follows the lives of a female apple tree and a boy, who develop a relationship with one another. The tree is very “giving” and the boy evolves into a “taking” teenager, man, then elderly man. In the final pages, both the tree and the boy feel the sting of their respective “giving” and “taking” nature. When only a stump remains for the tree, she is not happy, at least at that moment. The boy does return as a tired elderly man to meet the tree once more and states that all he wants is “a quiet place to sit and rest,” which the tree could provide. With this final stage of giving, “the Tree was happy”. It was shared in various other Indian folklore forms, even by my grandmother and the moral was the same. The moral of the story glorified helping someone in need. It perpetuates the myth of sacrificing, selfless life as the only way to true happiness. The values were instilled in every listener that being selfless and to always ‘give’ is a good character trait to inculcate and we should all strive to be like that.
Well, THAT was the most insane advice I have ever received and unfortunate that I believed it and followed it for a long time.
Today, I sit back and think about the big question, “How much help is too much help?” and “Is it ok to say no?”. I struggled with both for a long time because I had a problem with saying ‘NO’ to people. On the rare circumstances that I did manage to say no, I would be ridden with guilt. I would think, rethink and work myself into a frenzy that I was this selfish person, who didn’t help a friend in need.
With time came self-awareness and with it came self-realization. Yes, giving is good but one should only give without hurting their own self. If you end up hurting yourself in the process, then you are not doing any good to either yourself or the other. You end up disrespecting your own individuality by saying no to your body, mind and soul, by saying yes consistently. Sometimes helping others is more of your own need than the need of others. People feel a sense of purpose, a sense of achievement by helping others. They feel valued.
Analyze the guilt that comes with saying ‘NO’. If you have done enough, or you are tired, or incapable of doing more, then there is nothing wrong in saying NO. There is no point in exhausting your body, mind or finances by going beyond your capacity to help. If your conscience is clear, you should not feel guilty. You are just taking care of yourself before you take care of another. Understanding one’s own capacity and limitations is very important. Let your conscience be your guide. This is not easy because sometimes, it’s hard to distinguish between ego and conscience. It takes time to differentiate between the two and if you are unable to do it, there is nothing wrong in seeking help from someone who can guide you well. Raise your self-awareness so you can discriminate between the two. This is the most valuable skill you can learn.
Today, I still find myself helping anyone in need but when I do say no, I don’t feel guilty. My conscience is clear and I have no reason to believe that I have somehow failed or abandoned the person in need. There are a million other people in the world that could help them and someone who is more capable than me will step up and take my place.
Life will go on for all even after I say NO.
Epilogue: I was googling a picture about ‘The giving tree’ to add to my blog and I came upon an article about the actual book. It went on to say that it is a very divisive book. The controversy concerns whether the relationship between the ‘giver’ and the ‘taker’ is positive or not. It goes on to argue that the ‘giving tree’ is not really selfless and that the boy is actually ‘abusing’ the good nature of the tree. Now they tell me!