Help for the needy

11 Jul

Animals do it better.

Animals do it better.

“When interacting with people, don’t focus so much on what that person can do for you. Instead, think about what you might be able to do for them.

“It’s the difference between coming to someone with hat in hand, and coming to them with a helping hand.”

I recently came across these words on the web. While I can’t trace their exact origin, I agree with it wholeheartedly.

It reminds me of a lesson I re-learnt a few weeks ago, when I volunteered for a flag day activity.

For those who don’t know what a “flag day” is, it’s a day when volunteers go to public places seeking donations from passers-by. Flag days are so-called because small flags used to be handed out to people who gave money–nowadays, people receive a little sticker as a thank-you token. Flag days are common in Singapore and Hong Kong.

It’s been many years since I volunteered for flag day work—the last time was during my student days, when I volunteered somewhat regularly with friends, or as part of extra-curricular activities.

This particular flag day started out as difficult as I remembered it: despite positioning myself at a busy pedestrian junction in the business district, most people whom I approached would not contribute. Some were in a hurry. Some raised their hands to wave me off. Others wouldn’t even make eye contact, averting my eyes so that they wouldn’t have to interact with me. Yet others asked questions about where the money was going, only to find some reason not to donate. I knew it would be a long day.

Even as I was thinking if there an easier way to do this, a nagging thought came and refused to go away: Why would anyone willingly part with their money, even if for good cause? I couldn’t escape the idea that the very people I counting on for donations were a universally selfish lot, that it was foolish of me (and of the charities I worked for) to count on their altruism.

But there had to be a better way. After all, this was a good cause, a worthy cause for charity. Why wouldn’t people want to help learning-disabled children?

I decided to turn the situation on its head. What if I wasn’t trying to take money from strangers? What if I was the one giving things away? Everybody loves a good cause. Even these seemingly indifferent people. And I am giving these strangers an opportunity to feel good about themselves, by donating to a good cause.

The moment I changed my mindset, the situation changed. Within minutes, there seemed to be more people donating. Perhaps it were just my perception–I didn’t track the numbers–but it didn’t feel such hard work.

The main thing that changed was my perception of people’s attitudes.

For those that donated, it didn’t feel like I had imposed on them, or taken money from them. Rather, I felt I was the one that had given them something valuable, something that could not be measured by money. I thanked donors wholeheartedly, rather than apologetically, because gratitude was no longer adulterated with embarrassment. It felt really good.

As for those people who declined, I felt they had simply chosen to give up an opportunity do something good for themselves. There was no resentment or disappointment. There was just a desire to push myself more, because I knew there were others who would benefit from my little gift.

At the end of the day, I had collected 2.1kg of money in my money tin. I don’t know how much money was in the tin—the flag organizers would open it and count the donations—but I knew it was a good day of work.

I know this is going to sound like chicken-soup psychology, but there is a lesson here for dating and meeting women.

Most men approach dating like an exchange: dinner in exchange for time and an opportunity to impress.

This approach fails most of the time, and there’s a reason why.

A bad dynamic taking place when a man thinks of dates as an exchange. Despite all the things he gives the woman–gift, dinners, or something as vague as “a good time”, the man always feels as if he is trying to take something from the woman. And of course he is: he is persuading the woman to give her affection.  The underlying belief of this approach to dating is, “Without the gifts and taking her to nice places, she will not like me.”

Even if the man claims he does not intend to act this way, if he is sensitive, he will feel it. Women certainly feel it when men are trying to impress them.

And suppose the first date went well: What happens if you get a second or third date? What comes next? In back of your mind, there’s a nagging fear that she will lose interest if you run out of ways to impress her.

If you date this way, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s a tiring way to date. It’s a lot of work, and it’s no fun.

There’s an immediate and simple (as in “easy to understand”, not necessarily “easy to do”) way to improve your results, and make all your dates more enjoyable: Stop thinking that you have to earn a woman’s affection. Stop thinking that you have to prove your eligibility or sincerity for her to like you.

If you think you are somehow unworthy of a woman’s feelings (because she is somehow above you in attractiveness, intelligence, or any other sort of standard), you’ll always feel that you must compensate that difference by your actions or gifts. This “one-down” dynamic is an attraction killer.

(Aside: David Wygant recently blogged about how some men are oblivious to dates that are not going well. I don’t think they’re oblivious at all. More likely, these guys are trying make their dates last as long as possible, even when it’s obvious there’s no chemistry. They’re hoping that if they can make their date invest as much energy and time as they have, she will eventually change her mind or feelings towards them.)

Dating is an act of giving. It’s a process of discovery. As I’ve written many times before, when you ask a woman out, you’re giving her an opportunity to know you better. (Needless to say, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to know her.)

If you’re focusing your attention on impressing a woman, you’ll come across as being needy. (Which exactly what you are.) You’re also missing the opportunity to know and connect with your date properly.

But back to the million-dollar question: Without gifts and nice dinners, would an attractive woman still like you? If you were in a relationship with a woman, what would you offer her?

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