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Gratitude or Attitude?

Here’s a tough one.

Say you do something nice for somebody; could be big, might be small. But you go out of your way to do them a favor.

And they either take it for granted, or worse, complain about it.

That ungrateful SOB! Just see if I do anything for them ever again!

But wait a minute. Let’s think about this. Why did you do them the favor in the first place? Was it to be nice and help them out, or was it to get their thanks? Were you doing it for them, or for your own ego?

I’m struggling with this one right now on a number of levels.

I like to do things for people. I like to help out. It feels good to see somebody made happy because of something small I did. But when my efforts are taken for granted, it spoils the moment for me. I get a little angry and hurt. Don’t they care that I did something nice for them? Don’t they notice? Am I too nice?  Do they just expect me to do these things?

If what I do doesn’t matter, then why should I do it? Why not just do for myself, instead of for them? If they don’t appreciate it, then why do it?

But as I think on it, that’s the wrong mindset. That’s thinking in the flesh and not the spirit. Because when I do something nice because I want to help somebody, then regardless of how they react, I’ve still done something positive. My effort hasn’t been wasted; I’ve still improved the world, if only by a tiny bit. If the beneficiary doesn’t react as I expect, and I get mad about it, that’s my own ego kicking in. And if it’s all about my ego, and not actually about helping, well, then it was all about me, and my self esteem. I wasn’t giving; I was selling.

“I’ll do something nice for you, but you have to pay me back by stroking my ego.”

On the other hand, there are times when doing something for somebody is not a good thing. When a child asks for a new toy, and threatens a major tantrum if he doesn’t get it, giving in to the threat is not doing them any favors. When somebody asks a favor, motivated not by need but by laziness couple with a sense of entitlement, doing them the favor is not a good thing. It doesn’t help; it just cements their sense of entitlement.

So I guess there’s a middle point in there where when you do something nice, and don’t get the response you wanted, you don’t let your ego get in the way; take pleasure in the act, not the reaction. At the same time, the reaction may be an indication that the favor you did was no favor at all, and you might need to take a closer look to determine if you are helping, or causing harm.

The important thing is to not let somebody else’s reactions control your actions.

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