Count The Cost of Lost Opportunities

In Care – But Not Too Much I mentioned that giving of ourselves to others always comes with a cost. It doesn’t have to be financial; it may be our time, our resources, or our energy. But there will always be a cost if it’s genuine giving.

What, though, about the hidden costs? What are the risks in giving of ourselves?

What’s In It For Me?

The most obvious risk, especially to someone who has a tendency to think of themselves first, is, What will I get out of it? It’s a good question. Yet the answer depends to a great extent on our outlook in life. If we are too self-centred we may only think about tangible rewards. People with a more altruistic view of life revel in the pleasure of simply giving with no expectation of getting anything more than the joy of satisfying someone else’s need, and seeing the gratitude in their eyes.

Yes. But wouldn’t that leave us open to abuse? No. Why not? Well, notice the concept of meeting someone else’s needs, not their desires. There’s a big difference. Abusive people claim that they “need” to have their inordinate desires fulfilled. Genuinely needy people have a humility and modesty such that they do not ask more than “Sufficient for the day.” We can learn to distinguish between the two. It doesn’t take many bad (or good) experiences before we know the difference.

Missed Opportunities

Now think about this: A friend has a genuine need. It could be anything, but let’s start with money. We may have some spare cash sitting in our savings account, so we discuss it with our partner and agree to give our friend enough to meet their genuine present need. What has it cost us? What could it cost us?

Some years ago an acquaintance made a very astute observation. With the permission of a needy person, I had made him aware of someone else’s difficulties and he had loaned money to the needy one to meet the immediate needs. I mentioned that there was a possibility that he would never be repaid. He said, “Never lend anything that you can’t afford to lose.” He was, and still is, right. Whether we lend or give money to someone we should always keep in mind that we may never get it back. Can we afford that? If not, it may be better to find another way to help. (Happily, my acquaintance was repaid in full.)

Going back to our savings, what were we saving for? Will our family holiday now have to be a little less exotic because we helped out a friend in need? Will that cost us anything in terms of our family relationships? Can we afford it? Is our family strong enough to withstand the adjustment?

Then there is the matter of giving of our time. We cannot create extra time, so it must be taken from other activities. Does this mean taking time away from our family? Is that a price that we, and they, are willing to pay? Spending time on other people is fine. But our family are “other people,” too. So is our employer.

Looking After Ourselves

This may seem strange in a discussion about helping others by giving of ourselves. Yet unless we look after ourselves how useful can we be to other people? A large part of the opportunity cost relates to opportunities to care for ourselves.

Does giving of our time or other resources mean neglecting our own needs? Occasionally, maybe. However, if we make a habit of neglecting ourselves so as to care for others, we can very quickly discover our weaknesses. Our health can suffer and we become the needy.

Also, when we spend time helping someone else overcome their problems, this will have an effect on our own emotional condition. As I have said, previously, that is why even counsellors have to have their own counselling sessions. Therefore, we need to maintain our own support network.

Be Balanced

The point of this discussion is that we must be balanced. We cannot solve all the problems of the whole world. We have a circle of influence wherein we can and should make changes.

Outside that, we have our circle of concern. We may or may not be able to influence what happens in this region. Therefore, there is no point in wearing ourselves out trying to change things that we cannot change. By extension, if there is little chance of motivating change, there is little point in expending excessive resources on it. It may be better to back off and use our resources more wisely elsewhere.

That’s not to say that we give up on anyone. We simply use our resources wisely. We spend them where they will provide the greatest benefit.

So count the cost of helping. This does not mean holding back when we have the opportunity and the resources to meet the need. It means being balanced and keeping each day’s needs where they belong.