How to benefit from helping others

Boy oh boy. Sailors in the 17th century English Navy had it tough. Not only did they have to contend with scurvy, caused by vitamin-deficiency (and, interestingly, eventually solved by the Scottish ship’s surgeon James Lind using what was probably the world’s first randomised controlled clinical trial) they were punished pretty mercilessly for the smallest of misdemeanours.

Simply being absent, drunk or disobedient was enough to get a sailor tied to the ship’s mast and flogged with a cat o’ nine tails by another member of the crew. There was, however, a way of doing a deal with another man which minimised the effects of such severe punishment. Apparently you paired up with someone else and agreed to inflict the minimum pain on him in return for this other fellow treating you similarly leniently when it was your own turn to be lashed.

Such light strokes of the whip were termed mere ‘scratches’ and led to a phrase we still use today, probably without realising its original meaning.

You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

Nowadays the expression implies that someone who helps another may benefit from having their favour repaid, and this principle, “reciprocity”, is certainly one way of doing well from doing good. However there can be mood-lifting effects when you help others above and beyond a simple two-way exchange of kindness.

It’s worth remembering, for example, the phenomenon that psychologists refer to as the ‘helper’s high’, the flow of feel-good neurotransmitters which results from nothing more complicated than doing something kind for another person.

Although being kind ought to be simple, it isn’t always. It takes time. It takes attention. It takes thoughtfulness.

But it doesn’t usually cost anything. It doesn’t generally get in the way of the other stuff you have to do. And it doesn’t seem anything other than a fine idea to me.

So please make a mental note to look for small opportunities to help others during the course of the next day. And thank the Lord you’re not a 17th century sailor.

6 thoughts on “How to benefit from helping others

  1. thinkin’ of gettin’
    myself tattooed
    since long

    maybe now’s
    the time

    sayin’ something
    like »be kind«

    [plus: kind in my mother tongue
    means child]

      1. thanks, alex,
        for putting my nose there

        the poem
        happened accidentially

        I’m just a

        the vertical direction


    1. Dear Jon,
      I loved your story about doing a kindness. It actually can cost you nothing except being mindful every day about the good that you can do.
      Ten years ago I was working on the S. African Coast as an Estate Agent. I was working with a divorced lady who had 2 sons. She told me that the eldest son who was an excellent Rugby Player was to be awarded with ( colours ) and a trip to the finals BUT she could not afford the outfit that this entailed. I called on the Headmistress of the school and gave her the money for his kit and the trip amounting to $10 and asked her to present this to Joanne as a gift from the school. She was a bit taken aback but agreed and everyone was very happy and I never told a soul to this day. And Believe me I find it hard to keep secrets ! But I still feel good when I see Wayne 10 yrs later and we exchange hugs ! I still work on exchanging small acts of kindness but this was one of my best.
      Annette Cousens

      1. Thank you Annette, what an inspiring story! I love that you anonymously helped out a promising young boy and that you still feel so wonderful about it.

        My brother and I used to go around doing random kind acts for people we knew, often dropping off surprise gifts on their doorsteps in the middle of the night without saying who they were from. He used to call the missions “covert ops” and we both felt so connected and rewarded from the experience.

        Here’s to small acts of kindness with great meaning!

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