To each according to his need

My resolve not to help people who won’t help me has already been tested a few times since I posted last week. Out of habit, I nearly helped a former colleague to promote an event he’s organising. It’s something I personally have no interest in, but I know it’s very important to him. How easy it would be to retweet his mentions of it, or link to his website. But then I remembered: he has never done the same for me, and probably never will. So why clog up my own Twitter feed with info about something I don’t care about?

After a few similar experiences came something more difficult, because it involved someone I’ve been close to in the past. I’ve worked on many things closely with him and we’ve supported each other. He didn’t send apologies or good-luck wishes for my “thing” recently, so I assumed he was coming. I actually delayed the start of the event for ten minutes because I was so sure that he (and others) were on their way. But I was wrong; he didn’t turn up.

I found out afterwards that he was abroad on a planned trip, so he clearly never had any intention of being there. I was hurt about that. He’s also annoyed me recently by asking for help and not saying “thank you” afterwards. So when he invited me to his own “thing” this week, I decided to tell him I wasn’t going because I only support people who support me.

But it’s never black and white. My partner explained to me that this person is suffering from severe depression, that he probably has no energy left for his own “thing”, let alone other people’s things, and that he’s in no state to get into a discussion about obligations with me.

So I’ve gone for the compromise I really didn’t want: not going, sending my apologies, but not explaining why.

It’s amazing how much guilt I feel. If I went, I would be out three weekday evenings in a row. I would be spending an evening with people I don’t really know, discussing issues I’m not really interested in, unable to contribute because I have no knowledge or insight to offer. And, you know, I didn’t ask him to do his thing. But I still feel bad. And part of the guilt is the knowledge that my absence doesn’t achieve anything. I suppose I was hoping that my decision to get reciprocal would help to educate the people who let others down, to show them that there are consequences. But this guy is too ill for that approach to work on him. So instead I’m just quietly letting him down, just like the majority of my friends and acquaintances let me down recently. The whole thing makes me feel sad and tired. But nobody said that defending the value of my own time and energy would be easy.

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