Trading Favours

When you give help, you have to give it freely: I firmly believe in this. I’m always ready to help someone – it’s one of my redeeming qualities.

We’re always called to help other people whenever we can – scientists have proved that it alleviates loneliness, manages stress, and heightens our sense of wellbeing.

But where do we draw the line between helping someone and being used by them?

Maybe it’s my own fatal flaw – perhaps its not so much that I love to help, but the fact that I like to fix people. I like to make other people my project. How can I turn this person into something better?

‘I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself, and falls on th’ other.’

Manipulative? Maybe. But I seem to attract people who need help, and every time I’ll drop everything to run and pick up the pieces of their lives, and carefully put them back together.

In 1965, Martin Seligman coined the term ‘learned helplessness’ while doing research on classical conditioning. Seligman would ring a bell and administer an electric shock to a dog. After multiple rounds, the dog would hear the bell and react as if they had already been shocked.

Seligman moved the dog to a cage with a fence that gave clear view of the other side so the dog could jump over. One side of the floor was electrified, and the other was not. Seligman again shocked the dog, expecting it to jump over the fence to the other side.

It did not. It had already learned there was nothing it could do to escape the shocks.

It lay down and gave up.

There have been countless times where I’ve put myself last to help someone else. They couldn’t finish their uni work because they were out at dinner, or they couldn’t write a professional email because they didn’t know how, or they just copied my work because they thought I’d be ok with it – I’d helped them once before, so what’s one more time? 

I approach everything I do with high standards. I starve myself until I finish my work – I will not leave my desk until I have something of quality to show. This obviously doesn’t translate over to how I present myself.

You can ask anyone and they’ll tell you, I’m the ‘organised’ friend, the ‘mum’ friend, the ‘ever-reliable’ friend.

But it’s interesting to see how humans work. Once someone can’t lean on you for support, you lose all value.

Hypocritical. Adjective. ‘Behaving in a way that suggests one has higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case.’

I have to admit, there’s a small part of me that laughs when I see the same people I’ve helped walk away when they see me going under.

No, it’s ok though. I’ve always been able to make it on my own. 

Can you?

Give me malice.
Give me detached existentialist ennui.
Give me rampant intellectualism as a coping mechanism.

Just like an electrocuted dog, humans are all too quick to lay down and give up. Except I don’t believe it’s a learned helplessness, it’s a default reaction.

We’re taught to give up from a young age. Instead of fighting back, we run into the arms of someone who can make it all go away. We’re conditioned into taking the easy way out.

We lay down and close our eyes, and pray that someone will come along and turn off the electricity that shocks us to the core, removing us from underneath the harsh spotlight of life.

So this is me giving up. I’m passing it over to you now.

This one is for the people who lean too heavily on those around them – you need to forget the comfort of giving up.

You have two feet. Use them.


‘Only when we eat up this planet will god give us another.
We will be remembered more for what we destroy than what we create.’


Lately I feel like anyone who takes my help wouldn’t hesitate to ask for the blood from my veins. Why doesn’t anyone spare a thought for the people they bleed dry?

Everyone looks at me like I’ve grown a second head when I tell them I want to stay at uni and continue with post-graduate studies. I don’t know why, if I wasn’t here, who would you use as a crutch?

So it comes down to this: do I need the wake up call, or do you?

I don’t want to help out anymore. I don’t want you to waste my time. I don’t want to proof read assessments, I don’t care about your presentation, and I certainly don’t give a shit about helping organise your messy life.

But that’s not true.

I do care. I care a lot. I want you to succeed. I don’t care if I get nothing in return. If you’re struggling I will not stand by and watch like so many others would. How many of you can say the same?

You can drain the life out of me, and I’ll still make sure that you come first. I’ve sacrificed my time and energy for you so many times before, what’s one more round?

So of course I’ll sit down and fix your life – just let me put mine on hold.

I would love to help.

All you have to do is ask.


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