There are many things which we might want out of life, ranging from the pretty typical material concerns of “lots of money,” “a nice big house,” and a “swimming pool,” to the more socially oriented, e.g. popularity, respect, a sense of being at the center of things, and so on.
For all of those directly self-centered concerns and desires, however, there is also an entire world of outward-looking and virtue-centered desires you may have, and wish to pursue.
These could include being a person with moral integrity who always remains true to their word, conducting yourself with honor in general, spending your time productively, and being able to accurately assess and weigh up your priorities at any given moment.
Among the more social desires that a person may have, is the desire to be useful to others—specifically, to be useful to one’s family, friends and other loved ones. After all, what good is success in life if you don’t also use it to elevate and assist those you care about in the process of your own ascent?
Here are some things you can do to begin making yourself more useful to the people around you.
Learn basic first-aid skills. If there’s an accident at work and no one else is around, if a relative gets injured in the home and needs help before the ambulance comes, or even if a stranger collapses next to you on the street, would you know what to do? Would you do anything at all?
Most people lack any sort of practical, real-world first aid skills. They entertain the idea that they would do the right thing in the case of a crisis, but in many crises, trying to help without knowing what to do is one of the most direct and surefire ways of making the issue worse. Trying to move someone who has sustained a neck or back injury, without knowing the correct procedures for doing so, could lead to serious spinal injury and even death, for example.
One of the best ways of making yourself useful to anyone else at all, is to undertake training in first aid, either through an in-person course of by seeking out online cpr and first aid certification.
Become the kind of person who is ready, willing, and able to help others in one of the most fundamental of ways.
Work on setting your life in order. There’s a saying that if you want to help the world, you must first begin by helping yourself. Or, to convey essentially the same message in a somewhat different way; charity begins at home.
Many people strive to change the world, or intervene in other people’s lives, without by any means having their own lives properly in order. This can be seen in the case of social or political activists who are very quick to describe how society should be organised, top-down, to most optimally benefit the people who inhabit society.
Very often, if not always, such activists aren’t quite clear on how best to benefit themselves, and have a host of unaddressed personal issues to contend with in their own lives.
Just as someone who has never really figured out how to make a relationship work in their own life, probably shouldn’t give relationship advice to a friend, so too someone whose life is rich in its own problems shouldn’t strive too enthusiastically to solve anyone else’s problems.
Instead, focus on setting your own life in order, on becoming the kind of person you want to be, and on bringing your life in line with the values that you hold most dear.
But, how can this end up being helpful to others?
Well, in several striking ways.
Firstly, by working to improve your own life, and actually progressing towards an improves life, you turn yourself into a beacon of hope for anyone who wants to make positive changes in their own lives, and who isn’t too bitter to be inspired.
Secondly, you provide a road map for others to follow in trying to overcome the issues they face in their own lives. If, for example, you have lost a lot of weight and your friends or family are impressed by your progress and ask what your secret was, you’ll be in a position to describe what did, or didn’t work for you.
Thirdly, improving your own life first anchors you in reality and gives you a much-needed dose of perspective. You have a better sense of what works for you, and what doesn’t. You’ll have a better understanding of what you know, and what you don’t. This, in turn, will prevent you from jumping the gun too easily and giving advice to people which might be flawed, harmful, or just plain clueless.
Fourthly, as you improve your own life, you are likely to acquire far greater resources than you had previously, both physically, in terms of things like money, but also intellectually in terms of knowledge, and emotionally, in terms of insight. These resources will make you more effective at helping other people when you do in fact come to help them.
Practice martial arts. The world certainly can and should be a beautiful, exciting, and brilliant place to be, but it is never a safe place to be. The dangers of life come in many, often wildly-diverging forms. There are unexpected weather events which could compromise our safety, computer viruses and scammers who could rip us off, and illnesses we could fall prey to.
One of the most potentially troublesome and ever-present of these dangers, however, is the capacity of aggressive and malicious people to try and physically dominate and harm us and the people we hold dear.
Some people have something of an aversion to martial arts, thinking that merely to study the art of fighting means they will risk turning into bullies, or enhancing net amount of violence in the world, or something similar.
But aggressive and violent people still enact violence on those who can’t defend themselves—in fact, in most cases, they specifically target those who can’t defend themselves. At the same time, if your character is essentially virtuous, there’s no reason to assume that knowing how to fight would turn you into the kind of person who would seek to victimize the weak.
Instead, training in martial arts and combat skills can actively make you a more useful person for those you care about. It can turn you into the kind of person, in fact, who is able to push back when pushed, to stare trouble boldly in the face, and to put up a wall between an assailant and their would-be victims.
In addition to the simple, practical skills inherent in learning how to fight, training in martial arts will also boost your confidence in a way which will inevitably make you better able to argue and bargain on behalf of others, without physical altercations needing to arise in the first place.
Actually listen to what people have to say. Many times in life, people lack a sympathetic ear to share their problems with, and so end up going through life keeping things bottled up inside of themselves.
There are many problems with this.
For one thing, such people miss out on the inevitable perspective that can be offered by a conversational partner when engaging in direct, honest conversation. It may be that someone has talked themselves into a catastrophic pit of despair, constructed entirely of their own imagination, and simply needs to hear a different perspective from someone else to let go of the negative construct they have saddled themselves with.
For another thing, people don’t just talk to others in order to receive advice; they also talk to others so that they can articulate and organize their own thoughts, and come up with their own solutions. One of the worst things to do when someone is trying to open up to you is, therefore, to continually interrupt them, start arguing with them from the outset, and then try and give them advice.
Instead, listening attentively to what people have to say can sometimes be worth more to them than all the advice in the world, as it allows them to come to their own conclusions and interpretations with regards to the issues they might be facing.
To make sure that you’re actually listening when a loved one is trying to talk to you, focus on asking questions a lot more than you offer advice. Try and only share your opinions and suggestions when you’re asked to do so, and then do it humbly. For the rest of the conversation, however, work on getting the other person to elaborate.
“So are you saying that…”, “do you think you’d still feel this way if….” And similar questions are a fantastic way of encouraging your conversational partner to discover their own inner hopes, fears, problems and solutions.