What Can I Do For Me?
“What can I do for you? How can I help you?” Sounds familiar, right? I started to finally believe this should properly stay where it really belongs - as a minute-by-minute mantra of good services. In shops, in restaurants of all kinds, in call-centers and receptions. Come on… I thought the list would be a lot bigger… I am kind of disappointed that, actually, with these four categories of use, I covered all the real purposes of this phrase. Before I started writing, I was more focused on the real reason that made me start, now I can’t believe my eyes that’s there is about it.
Even before we go to school, the classic education and the usual rules of “the well behaving” start leading us to the wrong use of “How can I help you?”. How can I help my parents be proud of me? How can I help my neighbors stop thinking I am a bad kid? How can I help my friends like me? How can I help grandma be less angry whenever I break a plate or whenever I am too noisy, singing along with the stars on the radio?
This whole mistaken approach is constantly nourished by the classic mechanism of apparently harmless sentimentally educational pure blackmail. If you come home dirty, mum will be sad. If you tell Teddy he smells, he will tell his mum and she will be so sad, she will tell your mum that will eventually be very sad about it. And if you don’t behave as they think you should, Santa will not come, dad will not take you fishing, mum will not clean your clothes anymore and will not buy you new ones, grandma will not tell you nice stories anymore, kids will not play with you.
And this is how we start out in life with a little bag that has already begun to fill-up with our struggles to be the way others want us to be. And we put this little bag in the backpack since the first day in school. And throughout school, say at least twelve years, we continue to practice the wrong use of “What can I do for you?”. What can I do for the teachers to understand I cannot like all the subjects in school and that I couldn't care less about some of them? What can I do for my parents, again, to judge me by my real interests and callings and not by my report card? What can I do for my colleagues to invite me to their parties or to include me in their activities even if I am not one of the most popular people in school?
There’s a long trail of attempts to be accepted and understood, to be less and less myself and more and more whatever I think others would like me to be. Less and less whatever I thought was good and interesting and representative of who I am and more and more a continuous series of changes into whatever I believe others expect or appreciate about a good student, a popular chap or a grateful child. And there’s even more. We are raised and educated in the “what can I do for you” philosophy. Think less about yourself, give more to others. Even when you are a little kid and enjoy having the whole bar of chocolate for yourself and playing with your favorite toys or spending your own free time doing only what you enjoy doing. No…
That would be a bad start for a good human being. A good human being has to think more about others and less about self, doesn't he? Share your chocolate, share your toys, give them up for charity, take care of the little kids who came visiting with their parents, say a poem for the auntie from the countryside, act like a good person whenever others decide you should. And I am not saying sharing and caring for others is a bad thing. But it usually becomes a huge problem when we are taught to prioritize everything according to this rule.
As it goes on and on and on. What can I do for my bosses and superiors to appreciate my work, promote me and give me a raise? What can I do for you to stay with me, love me and promise to me you will grow old loving me and raising our kids? What can I do for you not to hate me and consider me ungrateful and selfish if I decide to spend Christmas with my own family this year and not stuff my face with mum’s turkey for the fortieth year in a row? What can I do for my friends to not consider me a fag for not enjoying a gang bang in a whorehouse after three hours of drinking?
Caring for the others is such a beautiful sign of appreciation for life itself. Such a gorgeous way of giving whatever your heart tells you to give to humans, nature, love and Grace. But this starts from being common sense and turns into a very sad way to hide from self, sometimes dreadfully turning into a real mania.
Nobody, parents or teachers, realizes that prioritizing “what can I do for me?” instead would lead to a gigantic shift for the whole humanity.
Of course, we learn soon enough to wash-up, to brush our teeth, to eat well and healthy, to read (even if sometimes we start reading by force, by other people’s options, rapidly ending up hating books and reading), to try to stay clean… We get introduced to notions like “heart” or “feelings” through sometimes-traumatic episodes. “My heart is very sad because of your behavior”. “Don’t hurt Dan’s feelings by not giving him a piece of your chocolate bar”. “Look, I am crying because you cracked your pants, I am very sad and my heart is suffering”. “If you don’t share your toys, the kids will get sad”. And this is bad.
And learning to feel only by the reactions of those around us will always keep us in some sort of dependence on them. This starts with the sad mimetic “I feel happiness because mum is happy and smiling”. It is the first and very early expression of sending our kids back to the stage of primates and the first step of preparing them for a life of fake gratitude soaked in selflessness. How do you feel? Did you enjoy playing in dirt with your buddies? Was that dirt cold and wet? Judging by your clothes, it must have been pretty comfortable. What did you play? Rugby? Do you plan to keep wearing those dirty clothes or should we throw them in the washing machine? For the last time, because next time you will be washing them by hand…
At least we get the chance of growing up. The choice of loving ourselves is there for us, waiting to be picked up. The choice of loving to care about ourselves just because we know this will keep us happy and able to offer care and love to the others without waiting for anything in return. As long as we indulge ourselves as prisoners of “What can I do for you?”, we will always keep counting: how much have I already given, how much have I gotten already, in return? How much love and care I have sent to you and how much have I received from you as a sign of false and useless balance? We will always develop false expectations and deal with bitter yet unnecessary disappointment and frustration.
The more we can give to ourselves, the more we manage to give to the others. To give selflessly and without expectations of getting back by the measure, as we are not empty anymore, we are filled with our own love for our own wonderful being. We naturally stop waiting for others to fill-up our insides with well-being. As genuinely loving, appreciating, admiring and caring for ourselves takes the heavy ball and chain of addiction to others’ love, care and admiration off our ankle.
I wouldn't expect my kids to copy my feelings or feel upon them. I hope I will be wise and careful enough to teach them feeling and expressing as independently as they take care of themselves, use soap and not eat sugar. Do you know why? I lived my childhood as an obese kid without proper meal times or a precise eating discipline, cursed for my home eating behavior but generously treated with junk food whenever we went shopping. I actually wasn't an obese child, but at a certain moment of my life I became an obese adult mainly because I really didn't care about myself. You do the math.