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"Hey, Mr. Toad - Can't thank you enough for the excellent work you did to improve the functioning of my eCommerce website. You were also very successful in strengthening the security of the site and eliminating hacker-related problems. I was very impressed and would recommend you highly. Thanks a million for all your help. "
Ann Wamack


Do we need to feel sorry for someone before feeling that we want to help them? No, not at all, in fact, I would contend that the desire to help should be classed as one of the core emotions, along with happiness, nervousness, guilt and all the rest. It is as natural as breathing. It is not genetic nor is it part of the conditioning we all receive as members of a family or of society.

So what can we say about this hitherto unclassified emotion which I will call "helpfulness" for want of a better idea? I would say that it is actually a rather problematical emotion, given that we live in a capitalist society. I would say that the Victorians were much better at handling this emotion than we are. They were known for their philanthropic outlook, indeed many of the institutions we hold so dear today were initiated by them.

In Toad Tryouts we appear to see the concept of "helpfulness" on show in a small way. And what was your reaction, Dear Reader? I guess you were looking for the usual catch somewhere in the small print. The silly answer is that there is no conniving businessman trying to "catch you out" - because, of course, a Toad can hardly be a business-'man'! But while we are thinking about the animal kingdom let's admit that they know all about the concept of being helpful (when they are not busy eating each other anyway).

It's part of nature for a monkey to groom another monkey, removing ticks and so on. So it's natural. Of course the monkey gets its reward in terms of it's being accepted by its peer group. There may be other, more direct, rewards from the monkey it just groomed too. But I doubt if any of that is the primary reason for this helpful behaviour towards other monkeys. And yes, I think it applies to us as well.

So along comes capitalism and there is an immediate conflict between "helpfulness" on the one hand, and what we all feel is the all-important business of earning a living. I don't want to discuss the merits and demerits of capitalism here, but it does seem to have stunted our ability to deal properly with our emotion of "helpfulness". We get extremely upset if we suspect that others see us as an "easy touch" - being an "easy touch" is almost a crime in the current climate.

There are some very difficult issues hidden in the background here - one of which relates to charities. The well-paid senior staff who work in charities would argue that you can only attract competent staff if you pay them the same rate as their peers in other, more commercial organisations. Yes, but there is also the argument that people might prefer to know that their donations go directly to those who need to be helped, rather than to maintain the infrastructure of yet another mega-corporation. Perhaps it comes back to the 'all-important business of making a living', whereby even those of us who dedicate our lives to helping others still need to live. And if I mention Ghandi at this point ... we could be here all night.

And so I finally I come to the actual mechanics of helping others. You hand over some hard earned cash to the guy who tells you a sad tale of having his airline ticket stolen. Later you see him staggering about with a bottle of gin pressed to his lips - yes, the bottle he bought with your money. Easy to get annoyed about it, easy to feel stupid, yes. But I think that, in that position, you also feel an extra burden - that you have somehow let the system down. It is after all, your own money that you gave. No crime was committed. The guy needed a drink and you provided him with the pleasure of alcohol.

Instead of getting angry I suggest that it would be better in the first instance to stop berating yourself. You acted with good intentions - so, and this is important, you have nothing to castigate yourself for. The feeling of "helpfulness" is a natural human emotion and that's what you experienced. The problem is not actually yours. As I have been saying all along, it's a problem that society has made, that society needs to address.

So the mechanics are difficult. I once decided to try to help a guy who seemed in a bit of distress. Thinking on the lines as described above, I decided not to give him money. I offered to buy him a meal instead - to keep control of what my (hard earned) cash was actually going to be used for. Well, it seemed to work - though we had a bit of trouble persuading the cafe to let him in (he'd obviously been on the scrounge there before).

In fact the opportunities to take this sort of action do not arise very often, or at least as not as often as we might wish. You need to have been given a clear indication that your help is needed and, crucially, it will be accepted when it is offered. And oftentimes it can be a dangerous undertaking - perhaps the guy wants more than you are prepared to offer and gets nasty.

OK, so what are the practical possibilities still open to us? You want to give directly to those who need help - or at least have some reassurance that your donation will be used wisely? At least one charity has set up a system with both of these ideas firmly in place. Let's hear it for ... "The Big Issue" magazine. Let me quote from their website and, if you didn't already know about them, I am sure you will see the logic of their methodology:

"The Big Issue exists to offer homeless and vulnerably housed people the opportunity to earn a legitimate income by selling a magazine to the general public. We believe in offering ‘a hand up, not a hand out’ and in enabling individuals to take control of their lives.

In order to become a Big Issue vendor an individual must prove that they are homeless or vulnerably housed, undergo an induction process and sign up to the code of conduct. Once they have done so they are allocated a fixed pitch and issued with 5 free copies of the magazine (or 10 in London). Once they have sold these magazines they can purchase further copies, which they buy for 75p and sell for £1.50, thereby making 75p per copy.

Vendors are not employed by The Big Issue, and we do not reimburse them for magazine which they fail to sell, hence each individual must manage their sales and finances carefully. These skills, along with the confidence and self-esteem they build through selling the magazine, are crucial in helping homeless people reintegrate into mainstream society".

They also touch upon another aspect of our competitive society, thus:

"Millions of people, mainly on low incomes and living in rented accommodation, are declined affordable credit each year. They end up turning to high cost lenders, such that the poorest people end up paying the most for credit". More

Well, yes, you know the old saw "the poor get poorer and the rich get richer". How can we change this? ... 'answers on a postcard' (obviously). But let me not sink into depression over all this - especially having found a charity which is so obviously doing things right. I am going to finish (except for a late addendum) by talking about a group of people who you never thought would appear in such an article. Let me say it quietly ... you didn't hear me? OK, I'll shout - SOLICITORS. Oh, hang on, our American friends think I'm referring to ladies of the night ("How coy, Mr Toad!"), so I'd better repeat that in American English ie LAWYERS!

So what are these lawyers up to then - in terms of "helpfulness"? Granted that they cannot express themselves in anything other than legalese, we do find evidence enough of their willingness to help - at least in respect of their 'pro bono' work. So here is what they say about volunteering their time to help others. I am going to let them speak for themselves - but I ask you to think about my contention that "helpfulness" is an instinct which is natural to every one of us, as you read their words. Like all of us too, they have had to find a balance between 'philanthropism' and 'earning a living'.

"Corporations, in that study, reported that they support volunteer efforts, not only because they view themselves as stakeholders in their communities, but also because they address important business goals,
including attracting and keeping a quality workforce and improving their image and appeal with
consumers of their goods and services".

Also - "Using carefully selected pro bono opportunities as a training vehicle will enable law firms to
provide a wide variety of high-quality skills training at a very low cost. In addition, since younger
lawyers are typically afforded greater autonomy in pro bono matters, they also offer meaningful
work experience and accelerated professional development o pportunities that benefit both the
individual attorney and the firm". More

Here's a difficulty - "If you don’t believe you can afford to take on even the creative portion of a (pro bono) project gratis, but still want to contribute, an option is to offer the client a break on your normal price. For example, reducing your creative fee by 50%. However, because this provides an opportunity for the less than scrupulous to get work by “marking up before marking down,” some organizations tend to be suspicious of such an offer, jeopardizing somewhat the goodwill that pro bono assignments otherwise generate".

They also point out that - "Regardless of how generous you may feel, considering pro bono requests would be a lot easier if they were backed up by a tax benefit. Unfortunately, it isn’t. The value of any labor donated, even to a not-for-profit or charitable organization, is not tax deductible in the United States".

... "There is one strategy that can produce something of a business benefit, though. Rather than donate creative time for a pro bono client who would normally pay for their own production, turn the tables: ask if they will pay for the creative if you donate the production cost. This way you will receive income that will at least partially offset your donation. (Because of the potential consequences, check with your accountant before making the offer)". More.


Since writing the above I came across a possible explanation for "helpfulness" in the following Amazon book review - even if this one is not to your taste (and it isn't to Toad's), do check out his book "The User Illusion".

Editorial Reviews of "The Generous Man: How Helping Others is the Sexiest Thing You Can Do".
~ Tor Norretranders (Author), Jonathan Sydenham (Translator)

From Publishers Weekly
From his first sentence - "Welcome to this book about sex, or, more precisely perhaps, a book about how to get it" - Danish science writer Nørretranders offers his fresh, irreverent take on popular sociobiology (by this point a veritable genre). While deploying the standard tropes
- a bit of game theory, descriptions of psychological experiments, some colorful anecdotes from the natural world - he does so in the service of a novel and intriguing perspective: that human generosity, creativity, cooperativeness and cleverness serve the singular evolutionary purpose of making us sexier. According to Nørretranders (The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size), "costly" actions, like sharing one's food and expending valuable energy on artistic pursuits, that don't directly contribute to our survival make us seem stronger and more virile. Rather than trying to transcend our sexual instincts, he claims, we should embrace them. Horniness is good! - it drives us to the limits of our capabilities. Nice guys do finish first! - at least when prospective partners are looking for more than a one-night commitment. And all the best in human endeavor, from open-source software to international medical aid, "everything spiritual, beautiful, and wise is 'merely' an aid to getting laid."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Description
When it comes to sex, Darwin didn't go far enough. Whereas his theory of natural selection dictates that species adapt the most efficient and logical traits (a streamlined fin, say, or a long wingspan), Generous Man makes the case that an animal's success, sexually, depends on developing the least efficient traits. Nørretranders uses as the central symbol of his theory the peacock's plumage. It's cumbersome, showy, and inefficient
- and therefore terribly attractive to peahens. Put more simply, nothing shows a potential mate just how worthy you are as a partner than your ability to be wasteful and inefficient. It's like a man with money to burn. But money isn't everything: humans really measure their worth by doing something that's difficult. This is a central - though hitherto overlooked - factor in evolution. In order to win a partner to mate with, humans display their best sides. We strive for perfection, prove we are willing to help others, show consideration, and go out of our way. In other words, we are generous. This book shows how our nobler traits derive from our need for sex and are, in fact, the best way to get more of it.


On Humanitarianism - Is Helping Others Charity, or Duty, or Both?

All rights reserved. The author also asserts his Moral Rights to this article, "HELPFULNESS" and warrants that he is the sole owner and creator of same. You may quote no more than the first 250 words before providing a link to Toad Tryouts. The author's TERMS AND CONDITIONS also apply.

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  1. nothingprofound says

    Realistically speaking, one can't help everyone in need. One has neither the resources nor the time. One has to choose whom one will help, and usually that means those closest to one, family, friends, neighbors perhaps, the members of one's own church or tribe. In this way at least one sees one is doing some good unlike when one makes contributions to anonymous organizations or gives handouts in the street. Certainly, we all have this ability to be kind and generous just as we have the opposite to be cruel and greedy. It's really all up to us.

    floormodel says

    not only do I think this is worth rereading, I'm also sending the link to a few friends to read too. It's important to be nice, even when no one is looking.

    Toad Tryouts says

    Thanks "floormodel" for making such a nice comment in my blog. I've only just plucked up the courage to actually express my thoughts in writing - a real 'newbie'. So to have you condone my output as being acceptable is a big boost.
    Thx, thx, thx! :)

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