TED Conversations

Ramon Thomas

Managing Director, NETucation


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What are the alternatives to helping other people?

In my quest for success I've studied self help, psychology and biographies of people who have achieved great things. I recently asked a disabled friend this question and I was not totally satisfied with her answer. She spends most of her time raising funds for charities online.

I am not satisfied with my progress for various reasons. Given that most of the advice I've received is help others to be successful or helping others will make you happy.

My question to you is this: how else can I live my life and achieve some of my personal goals (increase my income, improve my relationship with my family, have a good romantic relationship with a woman, etc) without focusing on "helping others" mantra?

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    Apr 8 2014: Sorry Ramon, but the way I see things, you're the only person who can answer this question, and the only way you're going to discover the answer is through this wonderful trial and error journey called life. Yes you can read psychology books and biographies. The former give you generalisations that are not specific to who you are, your goals the way you approach life. The latter relate the choices and journeys that are unique to those individuals. Follow their path if you want but it won't necessarily led you to the same destination because you're not them, you're you.

    Everyone faces this challenge. Everyone. If there were hard and fast rules for achieving our aspirations then we'd all be living our lives in the same way. But we don't because such rules don't exist. Yes you can learn from others but only to the extent of finding ideas of what might work for you. I guess what I'm saying is we have to keeping experimenting in our approaches to life in order to find or own functional life-mantras.
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      Apr 9 2014: I wholeheartedly agree Carolyn....passion is attractive.....genuine interest and engagement with an activity draws people and creates more energy for any activity:>)
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    Apr 9 2014: Ramon, I wish I were smart enough to answer your question ... I can't. What I can do is to pass along some of what I have experienced in my 70 years.

    Helping others as a requirement will never satisfy you or them. It is a shallow jesture and most will see the insincerity in it.

    So here is my advice, freely given, as a citizen of the world .... get to know who you are and learn to like that person. Live your life with honor. As these two simple things occur ... all the rest will fall in place. The tranquility you will experience will transform all of your relationships and family relations as well. The logic is simple ... how can you expect others to like you if you do not like yourself.

    You will know when the time is right and the means to "give back" ... it may be in time spent , money, or other support efforts. But you will do it because it is right and sincere ... not manditory.

    I wish you well in seeking a answer to your search. Bob.
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      Apr 9 2014: Hi Robert even when I thought I was intelligent I never had all the answers. This is why I'm trying to ask a question even though it's seems obvious to some. Giving without expecting anything in return is certainly how I try to live my life when it comes to my family.

      The dichotomy is when I do this outside I am reminded of the saying, "no good deed goes unpunished." There is a hint of the hero's journey in what you've said. So I will continue to explore being congruent, acting from integrity until I'm ready to share what I've learned.
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      Apr 9 2014: I agree Bob,
      Helping others as a requirement doesn't usually work very well, and people will probably perceive the insincerity with the gesture. If one's intent is to go through the motions because one feels required or obligated, it doesn't work as well as when one genuinely feels connected with people who share the experience. Intent is a big part of any experience, and when our intention is to learn and grow with the experience, along with those we are helping/supporting in the life journey, the actions take on a deeper meaning because all parties "feel" the shared connection.

      I like your advice to "freely give, as a citizen of the world"......know thyself and like who and what you are. Wherever we go, there we are.....with our "self".
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    Apr 8 2014: Here's what came to me reading some of the replies to my question. An artist does not start his day thinking about helping other people. He does what he does because it's a deep passion. If people like it or hate it, it does not matter. Maybe the same can be said of musicians or anyone in a creative field unless you count "making people feel good" equivalent to "helping others" but this is what I was trying to find i.e. how to live a life my own life on my own terms not what society deem to be best or right way to live.
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      Apr 8 2014: Good point Ramon!
      Generally, artists create because they LOVE what they are doing. I do not perceive that we can "make" people feel good. We can offer something to someone, and s/he decides if s/he feels good about it or not.

      With the volunteer work I have done, my perception of the experience is that I am the teacher AND the student. In other words, I am not only giving something or helping others. I am also learning and growing with the experience....make any sense?
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      Apr 8 2014: It's not necessarily helping others actually or doing anything actually. It's about changing the setup of mind. For example, if you ask many who have achieved wealth and success in their business or work, they say that they succeeded because they found a way to provide others what people needed.

      It's thinking about others' needs and not thinking about your own needs, although the final goal might be your own success and not altruism.

      However, if you are brilliant and have some brilliant idea (like famous artists, scientists, musicians, computer geeks, ......etc.) you might be exempt of such type of thinking about others and just go on with your own idea and have a big success. But then I guess you would not need to open this conversation.
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      Apr 9 2014: ...this is what I was trying to find i.e. how to live a life my own life on my own terms not what society deem to be best or right way to live.

      There are a lot of great talks by Alan Watts on conformity, living your own life, etc. In regards to success here are some quotes to ponder on: "You have to dig deep down, deep deep down and ask yourselves, who do you want to be? Not what, but who. And I'm talking about not what your parents or teachers want you to be, but you. I'm talking about figuring out for yourselves what makes you happy no matter how crazy it may sound to the people." -Arnold Schwarzenegger

      "If success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not live in your heart, it is not success at all." -Anna Quindlen

      "Success is a word that each of us has to find a way towards, a kind of definition that works for you. When we hear the word success we immediately imagine someone who's made money and perhaps achieved fame. That's the modern the definition of success. But if you look up success in any dictionary, success is just doing something well. It doesn't say what it is. So being a success just means achieving something that you've decided to do." -Alain de Botton

      Best of luck Ramon.
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        Apr 9 2014: Hi,

        You wrote very nice and true things. But the point in this conversation is that Ramon Thomas has legitimately already set his own definition of success and he wants answers how he can achieve that success according his own legitimate definitions, and not others' definitions. So he has made a well-defined & focused argument//requirement about success and he is directing us to answer that focused requirement of him.
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    Apr 20 2014: Esteban asked me to share what I learned asking this question. Thank you for this question and all the great feedback from the TED Community. Here's my reply:

    1. Living like an artist means I do not focus on "helping others" even though my "art" may be enjoyed by people.
    2. Avoid being insincere or shallow by giving freely without expecting anything in return.
    3. Stop asking myself whether I'm satisfied or not. This focus on what's missing in my life.
    4. Focus on being happy with what I have now.
    5. Always live with integrity.

    My grandfather died recently at age 87. In my eulogy to him I said the one trait I will always remember about him is ** integrity ** This TED Conversation was inspired by his passing away. I moved to China in 2013 to do an MBA degree, and could not return to South Africa for his funeral. He lived a self-less life, helped many, gave freely to others, was always humble and grateful for what he had. And I do believe he was very happy up until the end of his life.

    Once again, thank you for your questions, your observations and for giving me a proverbial kick in the butt with your replies to this question. I'm overwhelmed by the encouragement from the TED Community.
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    Apr 15 2014: The grandeur of nature and our place in it; this is life on earth.

    If you are selfish and think the world revolves around you, you would soon find out it doesnt, and by then you might have become the sad, lonely sort. I guess that is why so much emphasis is laid on "helping others".

    Helping others is not so as to recieve praise or to become 'successful'. Helping others is the pursuit of happiness, which in itself is the pursuit of purpose. We all know what we are willing and able to do to make the world a better place; we know what we are passionate about. When we love like that, it brings ease to our pursuit, not because we see some grand and glorious future; but because we've found a reason to live and to die.

    I doubt if Nelson Mandela in the 60s and 70s was thinking of becoming the President of South Africa and the fame that would come with it. He simply committed himself to a cause.

    Think of your life as a story. I'd say, "Love your story, and make it an inspiring one."
    • Apr 15 2014: Feyisayo,

      The thing with with the telling of certain stories is that a said story will shown someone the way and help them and the entire cohort attain deliverance with the caveat that it involves a compulsory acceptance of an alternative some may find unacceptable and untenable. For some reason some prefer the delusion of being free (while bound to it) over the realization of being bound to that which enables them to act appropriately. In other words some like to think they know how others can help the rather than allowing others to actually help them.

      The topic here expressly involves the pursuit of purpose and happiness that differs from helping others! You seem to posit that -simply commitment to a cause - with the the pursuit of purpose to make the world a better place and being passionate about it provides a reason to live for.

      I share your suggestion Think of your life as a story. I'd say, "Love your story, and make it an inspiring one." while adding to imagine the best possible story that could be and actually managing to realize it too..
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    Apr 10 2014: Helping others doesn't necessarily mean you have to make personal sacrifice,or choose between helping others and helping yourself. There are countless cases we can uphold both that paths, we often benefit from helping others, isn't it?

    I think the time and strength you dedicate to help others may vary,it depends on your values,status,life-expectations,etc. Some people choose to help people while their lives are not fairly satisfying, some choose to elevate their own live standard first.

    So, to most of us,helping others is a random act of kindness. It could be done every single day.It could be a smile to someone in trouble, it could be opening a door for someone, it could be giving someone thirsty a cup of water.

    It is really that simple.
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    Apr 8 2014: Hello Ramon,
    How about seeking balance? "Helping others" does not have to be your main focus all the time, and it can be very much a part of the life adventure in every moment. You could focus on helping others at certain times, while focusing on your other goals at certain times....balance. It does not have to be one or the other....how would that feel to you?

    Why were you dissatisfied with your friends answer? She apparently is doing what she is able to do? We all do things at different times, at different levels of involvement, depending on our circumstances.....yes? No? Maybe? Helping to support your friend in HER effort, may help you support YOURSELF in YOUR effort. It has already been mentioned....."helping" goes both ways:>)
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    Apr 8 2014: If you are concentrated only in yourself, as your questions show, why do you think others will make the efforts to help you ?? Don't you think that also they might be concentrated only in themselves ??

    I think asking these type of questions like I do, can be the beginning of finding answers to your own questions.
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    Apr 15 2014: Honestly, one definitely can live their life and achieve one's personal goals while never losing sight of the "helping others" mantra. In fact, it is oftentimes overlooked, but just by being involved in someone's life, one might be directly or indirectly "helping." In other words, one does not need to be a philanthropist or dedicate their life towards ending poverty, world hunger, or other horrible atrocities in order to truly help others. Sometimes simply being involved in someone's life is all that is needed.

    Of course I am not trying to downplay the sacrifices that many individuals have made in regards to philanthropy, science, education, and technology. However, one can "help others" by simply being involved in someone else's life. I myself would be lost without my friends and family.
    • Apr 16 2014: Michael,

      Even-though I actually agree with that you said I consider that an alternative to helping other mantra can involve a questioning them. If you allow it I would like to ask you a question here that has to do with what you said. My question may put you on the spotlight so let me know if its ok to ask it…
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        Apr 16 2014: Esteban, you are more than welcome to ask me questions, even if it means potentially putting me in the spotlight. In fact, I really enjoy discussing these matters as I myself hold value in the "helping others" mantra.
    • Apr 16 2014: Michael,

      Thank you. My question is why choose to focus the on the topic explicitly excluded from the conversation?

      Ramon basically asked:
      "What are the alternatives to helping other people … without focusing on "helping others" mantra?

      I realize that you hold and value a certain topic, I too hold and value it… the thing is that for this conversation that topic disregards the rules of engagement and shifts the topic from what is being asked to something else!

      In a curious way our interaction here can demonstrate and be a way for you to help me figure something out by focusing on explaining something you did! I realize that this puts you and what you did in the spotlight and you will likely seek to justify why it is indeed appropriate to make the case B rather than just focus on case A. My intent here is sort of to jointly figure something out and in the process provide Ramon and others an alternative directly related to the question put forth.

      At this moment I wonder how this will turn out and how it will play out… I just consider its vital that we engage in this dialogue a bit more… let me know what you consider especially if you consider as givens what I just mentioned. In other words for the time being let's stay clear of getting into an interchange of whether it is or it isn't this and that and focus on considering this and that the what follows be…
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        Apr 17 2014: Esteban, thank you for pointing out the error in what I perceived the original question/discussion to be. What I intended to originally point out is that one is "helping others" simply by playing a role in their lives. Essentially, one does not need to dedicate their life towards being truly altruistic and philanthropic (i.e. actively ascribe to the "helping others" mantra) in order to make a difference and truly "help" someone.

        Basically, in my opinion, the "alternatives to helping other people" is to simply be a part of their lives. One can both live their own life yet still make a difference in other people's lives, even if one doesn't actively ascribe to the "helping others" mantra.
    • Apr 17 2014: Michael,

      I commend you and your action. Thanks for demonstrating here what each ought to do.

      Indeed one is "helping others" simply by playing a role in 'their' lives. Essentially, one does and dedicates their life towards being and that make a difference and truly "help" someone. As I was composing this I was thinking about how some individuals help us be better and some individuals help us be something else… ultimately we each determine and decide how the individual's help will help us, though that doesn't change the fact that some individuals invite us to be better and some individuals invites us to be something else.

      Indeed --One can both live their own life while still making a difference in other people's lives, even if one doesn't actively ascribe to the "helping others" mantra-- . I think the key is what kind of a difference in other peoples lives one induces by what one does and the examples one gives.

      Again I commend you and your action, it should serve as an example to whomever reads these interactions to wonder and ponder about many things.
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    Apr 14 2014: It is interesting that the recent economic recession in the UK has seen a drop in giving to charities. In the UK most people give to charity in some way. When the economy is good, giving goes up. This being the case, it could well be considered a virtue to be able to support yourself and your family to an economic standard where by you are easily able and willing to give.

    In the 5 levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs (1943), the very poor need all their energy to survive in the lower three levels. It is only when people get into the top two levels (self esteem and self-actualization) that giving beyond their own personal needs provides positive psychological benefits.

    I would encourage you to focus on your skills - what you are naturally good at. Work in areas that reflect these skills, since you will find such work easier and therefore you should be more successful at it. If you are successful you will be happier and more confident. A happy, confident person who is able to earn adequate money will be more likely to give.

    Giving is not always by monetary donations. it can be by mentoring a young person in business, helping out a local family with school fees or housing rent. There are lots of ways of giving.
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    Apr 11 2014: well in my view, you need to set your priorities. Life has so much to offer and in an effort to capture it all, we forget what really satisfy us; what really matters to us. Everyone has to bear the psychological pressure given by our society and somehow we cop with it. You already stated your personal goals; simply start working for them.
    One thing I couldn't comprehend is that why did you draw a line between your "personal goals" and "helping others"? I believe humans are marvellous creations who are perfectly capable of carrying out all their social responsibilities. It simply depends on the level of your interest in particular task. Also your time management skills counts a lot ! and you will be living your life to the fullest.
  • Apr 10 2014: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”- Dalai Lama
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    Apr 9 2014: You say "I am not satisfied with my progress for various reasons." The problem is not with your progress (I've read your bio and checked out your links). The problem is that you are not satisfied with it.

    Your question makes me think of this book, for some reason

    I do not see any answer to your question that would satisfy you. But I see a solution: get rid of the nagging question "am I satisfied yet?" I think, this question is the source of dissatisfaction.
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      Apr 10 2014: Good point Arkady!

      I have discovered with my life experiences, that feeling satisfied and grateful for the path I am on at any given time, has helped me move onto other paths.

      I like to recognize the parts that I AM satisfied with, and recognize the parts that I am NOT satisfied with, for the purpose of building on what I AM satisfied with and changing some of what I am NOT satisfied with.

      In my perception, that is how we have the opportunity to learn, grow and evolve with the life adventure:>)
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    Apr 9 2014: I find it a mite bizarre that you want others to "help" you avoid 'helping others mantras'?

    Googling self-sufficiency and self-reliance might help.
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    Apr 9 2014: The greatest challenge is to learn on your own. I'd say there is no real knowledge unless you learn from your own unique experience.

    The world changes in every instant and we go through new transformations gaining our new experience.

    I have found a couple of messages I very much practice every day:

    “it's easy to stand in the crowd but it takes courage to stand alone”
    “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
    ― Mahatma Gandhi
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    Apr 9 2014: The old adage "Know Thyself" is an essential starting point - a springboard from which we might know others, and in knowing others, we open up a hitherto unseen array of doors leading to happiness and success that would not necessarily depend on wealth and materialism. Happiness is entirely internal - not external.

    Knowing yourself inside out, back to front, and accepting who you are, will engender a genuinely attractive aura of someone at ease with themselves - and it follows that people will thenceforth be at ease with you.

    You will probably find at this point that you might actually enjoy helping others, but more as a facilitator of self-discovery rather than a provider of direct help. I strongly believe that those who need help have all the answers to their problems within themselves. They just need to know where to look.

    I'm still working on it myself...
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    Apr 8 2014: Sorry Estaban I don't understand your point. Can you please give me an example of a "rule for life" that is universally effective and that everyone follows in order to achieve their personal goals?
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    Apr 8 2014: well, I would say Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, helped people a great deal by creating psychotherapy. And I would say Bill Gates, who contributed so much to this world of computers, also helped people a great deal by helping create this world of computers. Now I don't have the sense that Sigmund Freud ended up super-wealthy. But Bill Gates did. Why the difference here?
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    Apr 8 2014: Well, Helping others is one thing you can do... and I would recommend it.

    But, if you want to achieve some personal goals, and think that helping others is a waste of time (maybe when it's not really working or if you spend all your time doing it), you could focus on your (other) passions.
    Although your personal goals "family" and "relationship" involve others... so appreciating them and caring &c is a good thing to do.
    As for income: looking for better opportunities and working hard might help you climb the financial ladder. (as well as networking: connecting people to each other will make them connect you to the people who can help you on the ladder)...

    Helping others goes both ways: let yourself be helped by others.
  • Apr 21 2014: i love this statement written by Robert Winner, "how can you expect others to like you if you do not like yourself." is very profound to ones who fails to like themselves. Thats why a failed person seeks the easy formula for life so that everything works perfect for them. I am in such trouble. life seems easy but it needs some rules to work better for us. its hard to understand for such kind of people who knows most of things but they make mistake, and keep making mistake.
  • Apr 21 2014: Meaning that symbiosis is an example of, or one manifestation of Love.

    So, if one were to draw a Venn diagram, Love would be a huge, all-inclusive circle, and symbiosis would be one of many smaller circles within the realm of Love.
    • Apr 21 2014: John,

      Everything would be smaller circles within the realm of love!
  • Apr 20 2014: You can't desire happiness and be happy at the same time, because feeling of unfulfilled desire is what makes you unhappy in the first place.

    Happiness does not come into you from outside, it comes from inside you, i.e happiness is intrinsic, not extrinsic - being good lover, rich and loved by your family is not enough by itself.

    On the other hand, if your goal is not to be happy, but to be a good member of the family or good lover, or good work colleague that anyone would want in their team - then helping your family and your lover and your colleagues, being mindful of their needs etc is what will achieve that goals,

    so "helping others" is kind of tightly knit into us being loved members of the community and if that is what you want, then that is what you should probably do.

    Also, check out http://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_on_the_habits_of_happiness.html
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      Apr 20 2014: Dear Borna, so you're saying being a good member of my family or society is more important than my personal happiness? It does seem so in the big picture.
      • Apr 21 2014: :)

        What I'm saying is that it seems that the best way to be happy and keep being happy is to not depend on being rich (busts happen), or being good lover (old age happens, dear people die), or being good member of your family (sometimes the expectations are unreasonable, sheltering your children too much can harm them...)

        Possibly, the best way to be happy is to not require other things to be happy, as Matthieu Ricard says in his talk.

        Maybe, once you take that perspective, maybe you will get a new perspective on what it means for you to be rich, well loved in the family and society etc.

        Once you don't require that many outside things to be happy, you may find yourself more prone to share your things and time and everything with others - but as a consequence, not as a prerequisite.

        On the other hand, reason why people say to you that you should be selfless to be happy is that one of the best ways to rid yourself of dependency on outside things to make you happy is to share them and find new reasons for happiness through this act,

        Does this make sense? :)
        • Apr 21 2014: the best way to be happy is to choose to be happy!

          Sometimes people say to you that you should be selfless to be happy as an emotional guilt trip to get something from you! Like you said to be happy rid yourself of dependencies on things to do and have to make you happy. Just be happy! Of course sometimes people say to you that you should be selfless to be happy because your selflessness is getting in your way of being happy.
    • Apr 21 2014: Borna,

      In my case I can desire happiness and be happy at the same time!
      • Apr 21 2014: Hey Esteban :) good for you :)

        What do you do when your expectations for happiness aren't met?
        • Apr 21 2014: Borna,

          Implicit within what you ask is the notion that I have expectations and something else.

          I was initially sort of puzzled by your question… and wondered how to respond… one of the first things that came to mind related to something I recently wrote to someone else.

          Basically : I know that whether somebody be interested and chooses to accept a gift depends on a bunch of factors, the key issue involved be whether each be clear with oneself and others about what be going on; I reasoned that the individual interests would become clear from the interactions…

          Related to you question, I think a more fundamental question to ask be:
          -- Do I expect them to be or not be interested? -- Do I expect them to accept or reject the gift?

          Rather than speculate on the matter I simply provide the gift and observe what happens and what they do. The thing is, what interests me isn't who happens to be right it's what happens to be right… I am happy to learn from the interaction regardless of being proven right or being proven wrong, either way I learn what be right. Now if the other choices to accept the gift or reject it, I be happy for giving the gift. I choose to be happy whatever happens happens and each chooses what to do with it and how to do it.

          BTW FWIIW I see and recognizing the question you asked as a loaded questions used to push a notion into readers minds to elicit certain thoughts and emotional responses that some feed upon… the question : What do you do when THIS idea happens… bring into mind THIS idea … I wonder if you are aware how you be cultivating the idea --when your expectations for happiness aren't met-- rather than cultivating some better notions, say like each chooses how to be independent of whatever happens.

          I wonder what's behind what you asked and said before. Please ensure that what you 'conjure' actually be in line with what you would want to have … BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH/think/say FOR–You just Might Get It! How can you be happy?
      • Apr 21 2014: It's OK Esteban :)

        it was a loaded question and this actually what I was aiming for when I asked it:

        > I am happy to learn from the interaction regardless of being proven right or being proven wrong, either way I learn what be right.

        and it touches the point I was trying to make to Ramon perfectly from different angle,

        with investing yourself and accepting both outcomes as a positive thing you demonstrate the kind of mindset I was explaining to Ramon,

        thank you :)
        • Apr 21 2014: Borna,

          Glad to have helped, just would like to clarify one key fundamental issue… regarding what I said and what you said …

          Investing oneself on learning be quite different from accepting both outcomes as a positive!

          A good idea is a good idea and a bad idea is a bad idea regardless of the fact one manages to learn and move from each idea to an even better one. I mention this because what I said has little to do with accepting both outcomes as a positive thing, it has got more to do with recognizing thing as they are while focusing on the stuff one seeks to cultivate. In this case focusing on learning and being happy. I often wonder why it is that individuals seem to value love based on the sacrifices made for love rather than on understanding love itself. I been working for a while on a way to move from dualistic framings to a triadic or singularity scale. To give you an example rather than talk about what's right and what isn't right, I prefer to employ the notion of the validity of stuff.
  • Apr 20 2014: Teach the ignorant
    Feeding the Hungry
    Give drink to the thirsty
    Give shelter to pilgrims
    Comfort the sorrowful
    Visit the sick persons
    and start in your own home

    It would be a good start for you help others.
  • Apr 19 2014: Ramon,

    Can you share what you have learned throughout his conversation before the time for this conversation windings down?
  • MR T

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    Apr 16 2014: Take a leaf from Elon musk, CEO of spacex Tesla etc.. Pick areas of business that benefit society in some way and also make money.

    Sustainable energy is the big one.
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      Apr 20 2014: Funny you say that about Elon Musk because we are both from South Africa and I take great inspiration from his life.
  • Apr 15 2014: In helping others you discover a part of yourself called leadership, love, courage, and many other good quality traits. Even getting to know someone and giving advice is sufficent enough you may as well have saved someone, shown someone the way. Its just if you want to focus on yourself thats fine but recognize that helping others is simply a challenge nothing more.
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    Apr 14 2014: No Offence. Instead of studying self help, psychology and biographies of people, studying one's self is the key of understanding others, by understanding others is understanding the world we live in, and Ideas will just puff up in your head, and that is what you call Social Innovations in life for you to share to others, If you can help one person your helping the entire mankind, cause hands are not just made to built, but to give, so all ways are alternative tho.