How your own full self-interests will help others the most

It's radically counter-intuitive

When you stop trying to teach or help the other person, but instead choose courage to take care of yourself fully in your relationship with them, then you are more likely to contribute to them the most.


I'm going to explicate this with some real life examples with side notes to more clearly uncover what's occurring, especially in contrast to what would have occurred if you "showed more concern" for the other person or did not choose courage to focus on taking care of yourself.

Dialogue #1

Even though the following dialogue involves a relationship that's not even a friendship, the underlying principles would likely apply no matter the importance of a relationship.

The following scenario has played out many times during my more than 20 years here in China (as of April 2021). Fairly often I have met a young Chinese person who expresses an interest in getting to know me better. I especially enjoy first time conversations, so I almost always agree to schedule an appointment.

Note: Since I have no "track record" with this person, I don't know how reliable they are in keeping appointments in comparison to the average Chinese. Therefore, to reduce the risks of meeting in a public place, I always set it up where there meet me at my home (even if we go out to a local "coffee" shop). This reduces the risk enough for me so that, even if they are late or cancel, I've already accounted for that possibility.

Dwight: "Yes, it would be fun to get together for a conversation. Could you meet me at my place at 6pm this coming Tuesday? We could either talk in my parlor room or go out to a local tea shop, your choice."

Kim: "Sure. That will work for me. I'll be there."

Note: It's now Monday morning. Taking full responsibility for what I can (am and willing) to do to ensure our appointment, I text a message to Kim.

Dwight: "Kim, I'm looking forward to our visit at 6pm today. See you then, okay?!"

Note: Most times there is not problem. Kim confirms and everything goes ahead as planned. But, on occasion, I'll get a message back like this. 

Kim: "I'm so sorry, Dwight. My uncle invited the whole family over to dinner tonight and, even though I would prefer to visit with you, I can't really get out of it. I hope you understand. Can we reschedule?"

Dwight: "Understood. Enjoy your time with you family. How about 6pm this Thursday?"

Kim: "You're very kind to understand. That's great. See you on Thursday."

Note: Although I would have preferred if Kim had not rescheduled our appointment, it's totally okay. I have set it up so that I'm not out anything and now I'll have that time this evening to do other things I enjoy and want to get done. I am not blaming Kim in anyway. The only thing that has changed is that I have my first piece of information on how reliable Kim may be in keeping appointments with others (or at least with me).

Dwight (texting Kim on Thursday morning): "Kim, see you today later at 6pm, okay?!"

Kim: "Oh, I am so so sorry, Dwight! I'm feeling bad today. I've got a headache. Can you forgive me if we reschedule one more time?"

Note: Again, I have agreed to this second appointment with Kim, already including and accepting the risk that she may "need" to reschedule again (given that she has reschedule before, I know the risk is higher than before I knew anything about her). Consequently, I'm not upset and my relationship with her is still fine. Now, however, given that she has/wants to reschedule twice (and the reasons don't matter to me), I am not willing to reschedule again under the same conditions. If I did and then she again wanted to reschedule (or whatever), I know that I would likely feel "not respected" or "taken advantage of." 

Dwight: "I totally understand. Take care of yourself. But I have a problem. Let me explain it to you, okay? I very much would like to visit with you and get to know you better. However, two times now you've had to reschedule. I understand. You had very good reasons. But it makes me nervous. It's seems pretty risky to me to schedule a third time with you. However, I've got an idea. Tell me what you think. I'm willing to reschedule one more time if you will agree to play a game with me. Here's how the game would work. Let's reschedule for this Saturday at 6pm. If, for any reason, I need to cancel, then I will pay you 100rmb (that's about $15 USD). Or, if for any reason, you cancel, then you will pay me 100rmb. Would you be willing to play this game with me?"

Kim: "I understand. And sure, I'm happy to play that game with you. See you on Saturday at 6pm, okay?"

Note: In the ten or so times over the past twenty years that I engaged in the above scenario, only one person was unwilling to play the game with me. I responded to them, "I understand. And it just scares me too much to schedule another time without playing this game. I wish you the best." In all the other cases, they always showed up the third time as agreed. 

How my fully taking care of my self-interests best served Kim also

First, let's look at how I was taking full responsibility for taking care of my interests (including choosing courage, if needed). I was not willing to take the risk that Kim would take "care of me" by assuming that she would "for sure" keep her agreement with me. Therefore, I made sure that I accepted the risk (in advance) that she might show up late, cancel, or reschedule on me. I didn't not set myself up to be the victim of her (where she would be the bad guy). In other words, I made sure I would "win," regardless of what she did. I was fully taking care of my self-interests.

When I had additional information about her behavior (needing to reschedule twice), I changed the conditions under which I would be willing to continue in our relationship in such a way that I still continued to fully take care of myself. If I had indulged in an expectation that she would for sure keep her agreements, then I would have been relinquishing my #1 responsibility, which is to take care of myself.

Secondly, let's look at how my fully taking care of myself was most probably better for Kim than if had put my primary focus on being generous and kind to her.

  • If I had "generously" assumed that Kim would be reliable in keeping her appointments with me, then I would like have gotten irritated (or even blaming) with her when she rescheduled the first time and then even more upset the second time. Whether I tried to hide that from her or not, it would have made her feel bad (or defensive) and/or start us off on the wrong foot in our relationship. Not good for Kim.

  • If I had agreed (or even offered) to meet her someplace more convenient to her (being "generous," but not in a way that I was really taking care of myself), if she showed up late (or not at all), then again the same costs to her would have been incurred.

  • By setting it up so that I was taking care of myself, I was showing respect to her that she was the one responsible for deciding whether or not my conditions would work for her and to suggest otherwise if they weren't. I was staying out of her business.

  • If I had not honestly spoken to her about my "distrust" of her given the information I had out of wanting to spare her feelings or concern she would blame me, then I would have shown lack of respect to her and deprived her of information about how her behavior impacts others (especially if this is a pattern and she also does it with others). Whether she decides to pay attention to this information and learn from it is up to her. That's not my business.

  • Because I have taken care of myself in my relationship with Kim (so that I don't withdraw or get defensive or irritated despite her behavior), I am able to propose to Kim the 100rmb consequence game with lightness and playfulness and respect. Kim will probably know 

  • example good 

respect...out of her business

to put myslef more at risk by not asking to come to my area (to prove generaous)

if kind not to show distrust