“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
So you’re sitting at home or work and your phone buzzes. It’s a friend of yours that you haven’t seen or heard from in a while, and he’s just rented a new apartment. Since you’re his only friend who owns a truck, you’re the first person he hits up. He’s got to move in this Saturday, and he could really use a hand (and a truck to load boxes into).
Now, you don’t really have much going on Saturday, but it’s your only day off, and the one day of the week you get a chance to relax with your family. Besides, you were planning on finishing a couple of projects around the house this weekend, projects you’ve been putting off for a while. If you don’t get them done this weekend, who knows when they’ll get done? You stare at your phone screen and try to justify any reason to say “no.”
This is a “dilemma” we all face occasionally. We all want to be that guy that our friends and family can depend on, but we also have to manage the tensions of our personal lives, making sure our time doesn’t get away from us in the process. Husband, father, employee, employer, brother, son, leader… these are just a few of the roles that make demands on our time, and there are days when it seems they are all pulling us in every direction at once. When an outside force – such as a friend we don’t really see or speak with that often – attempts to add one more commitment, the temptation is often to simply say “no.”
But is that the right answer? I guess that depends on where you draw your motivation from.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” That’s hard to swallow in American culture these days. Let’s be honest; our society is driven by the pursuit of self gratification and “the pursuit of happiness.” I’m writing this on Black Friday, and past news stories come to mind, stories of people being injured or trampled to death during the chaos of Christmas shopping. I could write an entire book about the cultural problems that are brought to light through stories like these, but there is a greedy, self-seeking darkness at the core of them. Hear me say this: I am not against Christmas shopping. I love buying gifts for my family and friends when I can, and I love seeing their faces light up when they receive a present from someone who cares about them. But when shopping becomes a madhouse event in which regard for the safety of others is of less importance than getting the best deal on a TV, we have a serious problem.
This is not a post about the evils of Black Friday, though. This is about selflessness, specifically in regards to helping others. The simple question is this: Am I available to others when they are in need? I know. Immediately upon hearing that question we begin to bring up the endless circumstances that can change our answer. But just stop for a moment and ask yourself, in the midst of normal daily life, do I present myself as someone who is available when others need me? I can always come up with reasons why I may not be available on a given day, but if I find that I always have reasons not to go out of my way to help people, then I should stop and consider that maybe I’m not making myself available on purpose.
It’s tempting to look at this topic as purely external. “I have a lot of demands on my time, too many commitments, too many people depending on me. I can’t afford to add one more thing to the list.” For some of us, maybe there is some truth to that line of reasoning. But I’d be willing to bet that many of us use these as excuses, especially when it comes to people who aren’t necessarily close to us, in an attempt to avoid something internal, something that we need to deal with. Honestly, I’m always willing to drop what’s going on if my kids, my wife, my brother, my mom, my in-laws, or my close friends need help, without a second thought. Outside of that circle, however, it becomes easier to weigh the pros and cons of using my time in such a way. And the tendency for most of us is to weigh our personal time more heavily and of greater importance when we are considering giving it to those who are not within our inner circle.
Is this really the best way to live? Is this how men should live? I’d venture to say, “No.” And I’m pretty sure most of you would agree with me. Most men have an innate desire to live with honor and integrity. Nearly every ancient culture possessed a strong sense of what it means to live with honor, and they taught men to live honorably at all times for the sake of themselves and their families. For example, many Asian cultures instilled within men the importance of family honor so deeply that suicide was an acceptable way to maintain that honor. A man who had been disgraced or defeated should take his own life rather than bring shame to the entire family.
But honor in post-modern American culture has fallen to the wayside, replaced by the pursuit of reputation and wealth. Make no mistake: there is a significant difference between honor and reputation. Living with honor may boost a person’s reputation, but it may also have the opposite effect. Once a man knows what his honor code is, he chooses to live by that code regardless of what society and culture may think. Therefore, if your honor code is in direct conflict with cultural norms, you may be viewed as an outsider.
Why am I talking about honor? I could write an entire piece about honor, and I probably will at some point, but for now just understand that honor should be at the core of who a man is. Honor is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a keen sense of ethical conduct.” Honor, then, is based on our core ethics or values, wherever they derive from. Because of this, it should drive our decision-making process, giving us a guide by which to live and make decisions.
I don’t know where your core values and ethics come from. Mine come from a deeply rooted understanding or belief that I am who I am because of how God made me and saved me through Jesus Christ. Therefore, I attempt to make decisions based on the teachings of Christianity. Whatever your core values are, your choices should be made based on those beliefs. So when an acquaintance shoots me a text and asks if I’m available to help him move into a new apartment this weekend, my answer should come from a sense of what I believe is right according to my core values. If I want to live honorably; if I want to present myself as a dependable man; if I want to pursue something beyond self gratification, then I should make myself available to help, even if it may be inconvenient. I believe in selfless service to others, a teaching of the Bible that contributes to my sense of honor and integrity. And in the words of Thomas Fuller, “He does not believe that does not live according to his belief.”
Does this mean that I can never say “no” when I’m asked for help? Of course not. There will be times when I’m simply not available. What’s more, my family always takes priority over others, which means if I’ve made a specific commitment to spend time with them, I’m not going to back out of it. I also believe in the importance of sabbath rest. If I’m not taking a day each week to rest and refresh spiritually, then I’m dishonoring God and betraying my own core beliefs. Still, I can usually move my sabbath to another day if someone is in need. And if my wife and I have not made specific plans for family time, we’re usually not opposed to using our time to help others if something arises.
The simple truth is that our willingness to help out when it’s not rewarding or self-serving reveals a lot about our inner motivations and our code of honor. So what am I going to do? Am I going to take the road to self-gratification? Or am I going to make myself available to people who need me? Am I willing to pursue a life of selfless compassion and honor, even if it means sacrificing some of my own wants? Perhaps the easiest way to make the decision is to consider the tried and true Golden Rule. After all, while we’ve all been on the receiving end of a request for help, we’ve all been the other guy, too.