Positive dis-service

Positive dis-service: the credit for coining this term (as far as I know) goes to Swapan da from my days at the Ramakrishna Mission. Time and again in my life, while I'm helping others, I have felt that I might actually be doing them harm by making them dependent upon my help or service, rather than equipping them so that they may do it for themselves.

I had a friend in school who usually slept through some classes which were deemed boring by public opinion. In the back bench, he would enjoy a peaceful siesta while I took running notes for the history lesson and come back to my hostel to read them or write answers for the homework. Sometime in the middle of the semester, he had come to me once for help and I happened to dig up my class notebook and told him the answer after consulting it. Soon, this became a habit -- he would come to me just a day before the homework was due, and I had to explain to him what was required to answer the questions. He wasn't the best brain in the class, and I initially felt as if I was doing my duty as a fellow student and friend by helping him with the notes. It was true, except for the fact that he became dependent upon me -- he slept in more classes: biology, physical sciences, and would take up more of my time and/or borrow my notes more often. I talked to Swapanda and realized that I was actually doing him a dis-service by helping him. As per his advice, I warned my friend once that I will not help him so much any further; but he did not seem to heed it then. It was tough the first time when I turned his request down -- I had to inure myself to the feeling of guilt and his pleas. But soon I realized that what I was doing was right, and felt happier about it later on.

The lesson came handy even later in my life. When I was preparing for the GRE and applying to the US universities, I became a member of a number of forums, among which the edulix forums were the most useful. One day, a guy posted a list of contacts of professors from various universities who were looking for research assistants. He had painstakingly researched for a month and had ploughed through dozens of websites mining for these. While a lot of his fellow students thanked him profusely, some seniors told him that he was doing the stupid thing. The fruits of his labour were his own, and that he was actually doing wrong by posting them in the face of the competition he faced among his peers. A debate ensued, and after some time when I chipped in with this particular term and agreed with the seniors (even though I had already mailed most of the professors by then), I think we were able to reach a consensus.

You might be curious about where this is going or why I am posting this here. Actually, sometimes it helps to write out one's own thoughts. I believe it reinforces the logic in our heads and also serves as a written record of our thinking to which we can refer back later on. Don't you ever go back and read the archives on your own blogs? The best part about posts such as these, of course, is that it opens the floor for discussions in the comments section. As for example, I sometimes think that the role models we were taught as a child who gave away everything they had even when they couldn't afford it or needed it themselves were wrong. These are mostly saints or "great" personalities who inspire us by their actions otherwise. I disagree: I think being selfish at times is good, and even necessary for self-preservation. While giving it all up for the sake of someone else might seem like a very romantic idea, it might actually seem very stupid once the emotional euphoria is over. Tell me, were they doing positive dis-service as well?


  1. hmmm...first of all agree with the positive disservice bit. People should first try to stand on their own two legs before asking assistance.

    If your fellow student had been ill and therefore unable to attend classes it would have been justified to help otherwise not.
    Agree with Swapan da there.

    As for selfishness...read Ayn Rand she has a lot to say about it. She and the dictionary describe selfish as being concerned with your own concerns. That cant be wrong by any yardstick. infact i beleive if more people are selfish without resorting to illegal methods we as a society can grow by leaps and bounds. Be selfish and self reliant...its good...no need for guilt pangs.

    sorry for such a long comment couldnt help.

  2. Hey nice post dude...

    We all come across people in the form of friends and peers and we end up trying to help them making them dependent on us. To some extent this is fine if that person needs genuine help.

    Regarding being selfish, I believe that's again necessary to certain point.

  3. well.. the so-called "saints" were at a stage where it didn't matter to them what they gave up because they had achieved such a level of (for lack of a better word) indifference as to who used their hard work and efforts in their own progress.

  4. Sudipta, I believe that giving something always has its reward even if it's not immediately apparent. The giver will, in the long run, gain more than the receiver because I believe that we accumulate spiritual merit and maturity through the act of true charity and not because of pride or any other reason.

    There is an old Tamil saying which goes that even if you throw rice into the river, measure it before you do.

    Essentials for giving:

    1. Value what you give. Don't give away indiscriminately.
    2. Give without any expectations of returns whatsoever - not even gratitude. Returns might come in the most unexpected manner.
    3. Give only when the receiver truly needs it, i.e. the timing of your charity is as important as the material passed on.
    4. Education can never be bad.

  5. I am total sucker for sob stories and end up helping them invariably...

    Almost all times I help I only when it doesnt cause me discomfort..

    lovely blog :)

  6. Oopsie...a added I after the help..typos

  7. :) I think you missed mentioning about Varun Jain , or may be hundred of other students, as well.
    Really,I don't know what should I be commenting on this post as your help was really valuable for me, if not directly but indirectly it was :)
    Nice post, Bhai

  8. Pinku, yes, thank you for reminding me of Ayn Rand: I had a big change in my own philosophy of life after reading her works and I want to read them again. And thank you for the long comment: they're always welcome :)

    Aniruddha, yep, I agree. Thanks.

    Galadriel, actually, no... many in this case began doing it as a child -- giving away alms to poor people from their own households.

    Hari, I totally agree with the points you've said -- couldn't have put them better. However, about the spiritual merit or Punya, I don't know -- I'm skeptical.

    Mystiquedew, :) Thanks.. but yeah that is what I am trying to get out of --- how far to help and when.

    Varun, naah in your case or in case of the many others who I help, I think I go to the right length in doing this. I am glad I was of help. :)

  9. Agreed. Giving away everything to people who don't deserve and take your effort for granted is stupidity. But as you said, its hard to say no.

    Its worse, if you are a good student. People usually expect it to be your duty to help them and if you refuse, you are either too conscious about your grades (which is somehow supposed to be a bad thing) or you are too competitive. In either case you value your grades (a.k.a your hard work) more than your friends. I don't mind helping friends with some difficult concepts (I love to teach) but letting them copy from my homework is something I think is simply wrong in so many ways.

    Nice post.

  10. hey, thanks for your dis-service! Can't say anything more.

  11. Richa, welcome onboard! Well, for me the hard part is not to say no, but to choose who to say it to -- I can be very direct and if necessary, rude if the need be. And yes, I know what you mean about it being the fault of the tree that it is taller while the rest of the forest is short. You should definitely read Ayn Rand.

    Karan, I am assuming you are one of the people who are joining UT in Fall '08. In your case, it isn't dis-service: in fact it isn't a service I expect anything out of. You need to be helped -- and I'm doing what I wish my seniors had done a long time ago. Whether you deserve your help or not, your actions in the future will determine. Cheers, mate... and welcome onboard!

  12. I mean't to say thanks for your service of dis-service. I hope you got it now!! Cheers

  13. Yes Sir.

    Just Kidding, Loved the ideas in it. You are right about the Virtues of Selfishness as Pinks has already mentioned. Sometimes one needs it. By the way, was it about this that you asked those questions many weeks ago about how I feel when someone takes me for granted? Were you on a survey spree?

  14. I am not too sure. It probably depends on the person at the receiving end. Either he is cunning enough to take advantage of the person doing the service(or dis-service) or he considers himself to be inferior and forever depends on that person.

    Looks like either way, the person doing dis-service is the bigger loser. It may only help if everyone remains "good" in the world and the person at the receiving end, more so.

  15. Doing this is very much required! Saying NO, is so important, there are so many books written on the same topic. I also experienced the same while in college. A couple of friends of mine became rather dependent on me for studying. I would always avoid "combined study" after that esp if the concerned ppl were slow! However I learnt this only after I sufferred a low score coz almost all my time used to go in educating my friends rather than preparing for my own exams.

  16. I mostly agree with the dis-service bit. It encourages laziness, as you say. But I also have to say, that I've been benefited by your *dis-service* too :-)

  17. Karan, cheers mate! :)

    Mampi, nahi madam: I wasn't on a survey spree. If I've asked you something, it is because I value your opinion and you aren't just another reference point in a survey. :)

    Gradwolf, yes, if not the biggest loser, then at least the bigger fool. Good, after all, is a relative concept.

    Twilight fairy, million ages no see madam! Oh yes of course I know what you mean about going on educating sprees when your own bridges are shaky. But I'm glad you grew out of them :)

    Arethusa, yeah, only in your case, like I told Karan above, it was my pleasure. :)

  18. fantastic post. i like the fact that the 'salfish' part has fallen into place as you mentally sort out life.

  19. Hi friend

    I’m very much interested in your blog. I would like to make a link exchange with you. I’ve already placed your link in my blog Desktop Tricks- http://desktoptricks.blogspot.com/. It has a page rank of 2.

    Instead of placing reciprocating link, just add a link to my other blog “Digital Quest” url- http://digital-quest.blogspot.com/. So you will get a valuable back link from a blog of page rank of 2. Both of us would get a leap in our page rank.

    Thanks in advance. Remember please link back to http://digital-quest.blogspot.com/.

  20. Hawkeye, thank you. :)

    Riyas, I'm sorry -- I don't link to other blogs indiscriminately. Thanks for linking to mine though: I don't bother about what the page rank is.

  21. I have done this several times. You can help a person once or twice; not every time.

    Now, I don't find it hard to say "NO".

  22. Helping those with the means is clearly a dis-service.
    but Aniruddha bhaiya rightly mentions genuine help as in the deprived.
    I guess its about knowing where selfishness ends and selflessness begins..it is actually very easy to identify but more often than not its peer pressure that inhibits us..well me at least.

  23. Manasa, :) glad that you are doing so.

    Neeraj, hey, thanks a ton for going through all the archives! And yes, important point -- peer pressure can be a factor.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts