Helping Yourself Through Others
In Donald Trump’s America, nothing says rebel more than being a kind, empathetic person to others.
By Emma Taubenfeld, Pace University
People pleasing has a bad reputation, and sometimes rightfully so.
Just last week, I began a new job brewing and serving coffee for the hustling customers downing shots of espresso before work. The company is understaffed, so they are pushing to get me trained and on my own as quickly as possible, so I can then be able to train the future new employees.
Because of the lack of staff members, right at the start of finals season my new boss scheduled me for almost double the amount of hours I had asked for. I feared speaking up, because I didn’t want to start off my new job being disliked by my boss, but I am a student first, and having very little time to study right before finals just wasn’t a good idea.
Ultimately, I ended up talking to my boss about my hours, and we reached a compromise in which I would work less. After a little reflection, I realized that, in this situation, being a people pleaser would have been the wrong decision; had I put my boss’ interests ahead of my own, I would have ended up working more hours than I could have handled, potentially jeopardizing my grades and effectively nullifying the entire point of having a part-time job to help pay for school.
What’s more, if I had kept silent, I could have given my boss the impression that I could be manipulated, which would have later encouraged him to seek me out first when he’s trying to get something he wants; it would have also made it harder, in the future, to refuse his requests. In other words, being a people pleaser and standing up for yourself in the workplace are often incompatible.
It also pays to be self-serving outside of your job. In large part due to the internet and the rise of social media, people today are more self-centered than ever. Everyone, from celebrities to your own parents, are encouraged to share the mundane events in their lives; they are rewarded for their efforts with endorphin-spiking likes, comments, favs and friend requests, and soon they realize that the more they post, the more the social media validation comes rolling in. Such daily reinforcement of your personal importance to the world can wreak havoc on your ability to find value in yourself, but that philosophical can of worms often goes unacknowledged. Instead, what happens is that the catnip of acknowledgment leads to increasing levels of narcissism, a trend that has been noted in both empirical evidence and cultural analysis.
In “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement,” psychologists and professors Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell cite examples of seemingly disparate events that are all linked by a rise in the prevalence of self-centeredness.
They write, “On a reality TV show, a girl planning her Sweet Sixteen wants a major road blocked off so a marching band can precede her grand entrance on a red carpet. Five times as many Americans undergo plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures as ten years ago, and ordinary people hire fake paparazzi to follow them around to make them look famous. High school students physically attack classmates and post YouTube videos of the beatings to get attention. And for the past several years, Americans have been buying McMansions and expensive cars on credit they can’t afford.”
Why? According to the professors, all these behaviors are linked to a rise in narcissism, an attitude that Elan Golomb, the author of “Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in Their Struggle for Self,” describes as “seeing others as vending machines, using them only to service your needs and being unable to acknowledge that others have needs of their own.” Twenge and Campbell suggest that the rise of this type of behavior has been so vertiginous that it can only be called an epidemic, and they compare the rapidity and severity of its spread to obesity, another phenomenon that has increasingly plagued the American people since the 1980s.
Like many social trends, the rise of selfish tendencies in people is neither entirely bad nor entirely good. As I alluded to earlier, my own self-preservation instincts were necessary in order to keep my grades up. You must be able to stick up for yourself in certain situations, and a little self-promotion goes a long way, especially in situations such as job-hunting.
The fear is not that society learns to value itself, but that it forgets that, in certain situations, there is more to gain from humility than ambition.
People who are considered people-pleasers are great at resolving conflicts. They work to promote the best interests of everyone involved, and can usually eliminate friction within groups by suggesting compromises that benefit every member in a discussion.
Since they are interested in the lives of others, they tend to be amazing listeners. When the conversation is over, they will remember what you said, because when you were speaking, they weren’t just waiting until it was their turn to talk; they were really listening to what you had to say.
As a result of being so receptive, people trust them and share with them, meaning that not only are they often a reservoir of information, but that they also bring diverse perspectives to the table as a result of interacting with so many different types of people. On top of that, they can share these opinions while still valuing the thoughts of others.
Ultimately, people-pleasers—or pushovers or suck-ups or whatever other synonym you want to use—really just want to make other people happy. They have a strong yearning to make others laugh and smile. If someone is feeling upset, they will do everything in their power to make them feel better. With just a thoughtful gesture or kind word, people-pleasers will make sure everyone is happy and satisfied.
Regarding my work situation, if I had kept my mouth shut, I could have been at a pretty large disadvantage in the future if I failed my finals because I didn’t have time to study. Maybe, if it wasn’t time to take exams, I would have put in some extra hours in order to help out, but, in that case, I had to draw the line.
In the same vein, sometimes it pays to go out of the way to help a friend with their homework—without getting paid, a free meal or something else in return. Same thing with bringing Advil to a sick friend or picking up a sibling from the train station—there is a lot of benefit to a pure, selfless act.
Too often, you’re told that you’re being “taken advantage of” or that you “shouldn’t let people step on you,” but the reality is that the world needs more selfless people. There are hundreds of articles explaining why people should be selfish, why selfishness is the key to happiness and how being selfish makes you a better person, but too few articles on why, from time to time, you benefit from putting others before yourself.
Given how normalized selfishness has become, I understand how difficult it can be to try and break the cycle. But, if you start the trend of committing purely selfless acts and pleasing others, maybe your good karma will find its way back to you. If more people acknowledge and reduce their selfish behaviors, the world will be populated with more pleased people.