We are Hardwired to Help Others

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I have worked hard to become the observer. The observer in my life and the lives of those around me. Being an observer, void of having an opinion or judgement, allows me to see things for what they are.

As I have adopted this new lifestyle I have noticed a familiar theme surfacing over and over. I am noticing how many times we do things for other people rather than trusting our instincts and following our own intuition. We do this because we are hardwired to help others. To be in service to others. But we also have been gifted with an intuition that when listened to cannot only save us, but usually shifts the story to have a healthier outcome.

Let me use the recent movie Everest as an example. The movie description is written as

On the morning of May 10, 1996, climbers from two expeditions start their final ascent toward the summit of Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. With little warning, a violent storm strikes the mountain, engulfing the adventurers in one of the fiercest blizzards ever encountered by man. Challenged by the harshest conditions imaginable, the teams must endure blistering winds and freezing temperatures in an epic battle to survive against nearly impossible odds.”

I do recognize that this is a depiction of what happened on the mountain in 1996 and therefore I can only comment from what I witnessed in the movie. In 1996 a group of individuals arrived at Mount Everest’s base camp to prepare for a climb to the summit. Rob Hall, an experienced guide, led the Adventure Consultants group. On this expedition Rob had a friend, Doug, who after several failed attempts saw this as his last chance to reach the summit. Scott Fischer was the chief guide for a competitive company called Mountain Madness.

Please understand that my post is not in any way meant as a judgement or criticism of decision made on the mountain that day. I am only trying to illustrate how often we make decisions based on what we think is best for someone else, rather than following our intuition. Many times, if we had trusted our own voice, the outcome would have been beneficial to both. We truly believe we are doing the right thing but sometimes it is for the wrong reason and the results can be devastating.

Let me begin with Jan, Rob’s pregnant wife. She really wanted Rob to stay home but being a climber herself she understood why he wanted to leave. She made her decision on what she thought was best for Rob and discounted what she needed. What might have happened if Jan had listened to her own voice and insisted that Rob stay home?

On the mountain Rob had his group leave Camp IV before dawn with the intention to be back at camp before nightfall. Missing guide ropes delayed their climb by over an hour, however Rob was able to reach the summit as scheduled. As Rob begins his decent he met his friend Doug who was struggling to reach the summit. Rob is aware they must turn around but his friend pleads for his chance to complete the climb. Rob’s face depicts his internal struggle. He knows they must turn back in order to make the decent on time and before the storm, yet he makes his decision based on what he thinks is best for his friend.

Together they reach the summit shortly after 4:00 pm only to encounter the blizzard on their decent. The challenges intensify for Doug when the oxygen bottles are not where Rob expected to find them. Weak and confused Doug topples to his death. What would have happened if Rob had listened to his own voice and insisted that Doug either descend or continue the climb alone?

Guide Andy Harris received a call to take Rob oxygen. Once again you see the internal struggle on Andy’s face. He knows the oxygen bottles are not full and he is aware of the danger of the blizzard. He ignores his own resistance not wanting to let down either Helen, at base camp, or Rob and heads up the mountain.

After reaching Rob, with the frozen oxygen bottle, the two huddle together. Andy begins to hallucinate, removes his outer clothing, and falls off the slippery slope. What would have happened if Andy had listened to his own voice?

Earlier in the day Scott, the chief guide for Mountain Madness, had escorted a climber down to camp. Despite Rob’s warnings to rest Scott was intent on re-ascending. Exhausted and ill from altitude pulmonary edema Scott eventually lies down and dies. What would have happened if Scott had put himself first and not based his decision on what he thought was best for others?

In the morning, after a brief conversation with Jen, Rob passes away on the mountain.

There were many circumstances out of their control. There were also many circumstances that resulted due to decisions that were made. In every one of the examples listed above the decision was made on what they thought was best for the other person. They ignored their intuition, the voice inside of them that was desperately trying to sway them in another direction.

Human beings have been conditioned to do this, to respond this way, put others needs ahead of their own. According to Oliver J. R. Cooper we admire people who put other’s needs ahead of their own. We see them as an example to aspire to. While some decisions are small, encompassing little risk, other decisions as illustrated in Everest can be life changing.

As children we have been taught that putting others first is the right thing to do. However by putting others first, our own needs are being ignored. By ignoring our needs we compromise who we are, which can lead to discomfort.

According to Cooper, our belief that addressing our needs is a bad thing has been conditioned. Our ego mind operates from the familiar and “denying our personal needs” is familiar to most of us. To act any other way can bring on feelings of fear. Fear of being abandoned or rejected.

We formed these beliefs when we were children. We learned our behaviour from our caregivers and how they responded to our needs. If our needs were met and we were treated with respect we would feel important. We would believe that our needs were important and would not feel shame or guilt for having them.

If our caregivers seldom responded to our needs we would then feel unimportant. We would believe that our needs were unimportant and would feel shame or guilt for having them.

If the child routinely addressed the needs of their caretaker the child would mature feeling ashamed and guilty for having needs at all. This later example can be taken a step further as the child concludes that the only way to get their needs met is to help others first.

Our world is polarized. Right and wrong. Good and Bad. Selfish and selfless. Positive and Negative. Many of us see the world as choices and there only appear to be two to choose from. This creates a life of compromise or denial.

Nature is collaborative. There is balance in nature, a give and take. It is healthy to recognize and be comfortable with having personal needs. Addictions can result when there is an imbalance as we become consumed with assisting others or denying the existence of our own needs.

When we change our beliefs and perspectives our world begins to shift. When we can place equal value on our needs with how we choose to be in service to others and the universe matches that frequency.

Below are some tips to help you shift your perspective:

  • When you must make a decision to help someone accept your first answer. This is your authentic self speaking.
  • Learn to read your body. If the answer is right for you your body will feel light. If the decision is wrong for you your body will feel heavy.
  • If this is an important question quiet your mind in meditation and listen for the answer.
  • When you hear your inner critic, recognize its existence without judgement, and then gently push it side.
  • Ask yourself how you will feel if you offer assistance in this situation. Will it make you feel good? Will you feel resentful?