1922: Why I Quit Being So Accommodating

Update: See this post for a free ePub eBook version of this long post.

A very odd essay from a 1922 issue of The American Magazine that seems to go against the general grain of most of the articles published then. There is also no name attached to it.


Why I Quit Being So Accommodating

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of my retirement from the business of being a Good Fellow. I use the word “business” advisedly. Until five years ago, if the city directory had told the truth, it would have listed after my name, as my real occupation, something like, “General Attender to Things,” or “Pinch Hitter,” or “Fine Old Scout.” I hope I am entitled in some measure to these designations even to-day. But I have quit being an accommodator and nothing else.

Five years ago yesterday it was, at two o’clock in the morning; I am not likely to forget the place or the hour. From four-thirty, when the president of our company and I faced each other across his desk, until eleven-thirty, when I left him at his door, we fought the thing back and forth. From eleven-thirty until two o’clock I spent in a bitter ordeal of self-examination.

“You are thirty-five years old,” I said to myself. “More than half of your life has already been spent. Who is living your life, anyway? Is it actually yours? Or is it a kind of public storehouse of odd jobs? A pile of days and hours put on the counter of the world with a sign inviting every Tom, Dick, and Harry to take one?”

It was in that solemn morning hour, as I have said, that I formally retired from the business of being Everybody’s Friend. For weeks I had to school myself in the hard business of saying “No.” But five years have made the cure almost complete.

Surely, if life means anything at all, it means that each of us is entrusted with a certain irreplaceable fund of hours and weeks and years. To let anybody and everybody fritter that fund away is as if the trustee of an estate were to deposit the estate’s funds in a bank and issue check books to whoever applied.

Some of us are born good-natured, some acquire good-nature, and some have good-nature thrust upon us. I belong to the third class. My father ran a small-town drug store. A bald, worried little man, perpetually tired but perpetually smiling — nodding his head and murmuring, “Right away, Mrs. Jones; we’ll have it up right away!’ And, “No trouble! not the slightest trouble in the world!”

Why is it that everybody imposes upon the hapless proprietor of a drug store? No one ever runs into a butcher shop, and asks, “Would you mind watching Willie until I come back?” No one, expects a hardware merchant to carry two-cent stamps, or grumbles at him, because he happens to be out of postal cards on Sunday afternoons. No one rings excitedly at the front door of the feed merchant and pulls him out of bed at two o’clock for some trivial purchase that might just as easily have been made before the store closed in the evening.

But there is absolutely nothing that people will not ask and expect a druggist to do. My father had a competitor across the street and one block down. Our whole lives were passed in fear of what that competitor was doing or might do. Lest he should gain some advantage, it was impressed upon us that we must go the limit in being accommodating.

It goes without saying that Father belonged to every lodge and society in town. His name was on every subscription list. With all his twelve or fifteen hours of work a day, our family finances were never a nickel ahead. And yet, in all the years, I can remember my mother protesting only once.

It was a warm June evening when I was about nine years old. We were waiting for Father to come home from the store, and Mother had been thrilling us with plans for the journey we were going to take to my grandmother’s farm in Iowa — the only vacation trip we had ever dared to plan. For months she had been saving up for it, slipping an odd bit of change into the little bank in her bureau drawer. We were to start the following Monday — and it was Thursday night that Father came home, a little more nervous and apologetic than usual.

I was too young to understand the conversation, which had to do with a note he had endorsed for some “friend.” In jerky, disconnected sentences he poured out his confession, while my mother listened in silence. When he finished she rose, and walking into her room lifted the little bank, carried it out, and fairly flung it into Father’s lap. Then, turning swiftly, she locked herself in her room and we heard her sobbing as if her heart would break.

It was, as I have said, her only protest. Generally speaking, we were a contented family. But always there hung over us the heavy hand of the community’s unreasonable demands; and the fear of the advantage that might accrue to the rival drug store down the street if we failed, in any way, to meet the requests that came to us. We did everything for everybody, and were always in debt. Our rival, gruff old “Doc” Meadows, did nothing except to keep a clean store, fill prescriptions accurately, and charge fair prices and insist on prompt payments. Yet he managed to own a house and have all the other comforts that we yearned for but never enjoyed.

It was not until long afterward that I understood the whole truth of the matter. People never trust an accommodating man with important things. That may sound harsh and cynical, but check it up in your own experience. If you have a severe illness, for example, you turn to the busiest, most exacting doctor in town. The fact that he is busy and can’t be bothered by little things gives you confidence in his ability and judgment.

But this big truth I did not learn until many years afterward. Meanwhile, growing up in such a household, it was inevitable that the habit of being accommodating should have become almost a religion with me. I was the boy who carried the heavy bag of bats home after the ball game. I was the official chaser of foul balls. I brought water from the spring in the meadow, down below the ball field, carrying it up the hill under the burning sun. When any one of the five churches was to have a special celebration, I was invariably one of the boys who stayed up most of Saturday night getting the decorations in place. I think I must have sold a hundred thousand tickets to everything — from an oyster supper at the First Methodist Church to an Elks Carnival at the picnic grounds.

At eighteen I went away to college. Father could contribute nothing to the enterprise, but I had saved enough from a summer’s work to pay the fees of the first term, and I expected somehow to find work by which to pull myself through. I might claim to have been fairly popular in my class. At least, my classmates seemed to like to have me around, and I was especially in demand at dances. Not because I was a perfect dancer — I never had the chance to dance at all — but because I played the piano while the other fellows danced!

Except for one or two good friendships and a little social polish, which I needed badly, I doubt whether my college experience added much to my equipment for success. There was not time to do any real college work, when I had finished making a living and tending to everybody’s odd jobs. The truth is, while they liked me, neither my professors nor my fellow students took me seriously. I was just “Good old Bert.”

Joe, my roommate, was a happy-go-lucky sort of youngster who had an idea that he might become a great artist if only his father would let him spend two or three years in Paris. But his father insisted that the place for him to spend the next two or three years was in the family hardware business. After two years in college, the old man sent for him to come home, and I was taken along in the hope that the parental wrath might be averted by the presence of a third party.

What went on between father and son that evening in the old man’s study I never knew in detail. But Joe came out at the end of an hour and announced:

“I start to work Monday in the darned old store, .Bert. And you’re going to start with me.”

“I start with you?” I protested.

“Now, don’t argue!” he exclaimed. “You don’t suppose I could stand it to be in that dirty old warehouse all alone, do you? There’s no use in your going back to college, anyway; and you’ve got to start in business somewhere. Be a good fellow; come on!”

Whatever vague plans I had for my life had centered around the bank in a Middle-Western city of which my mother’s brother was president. It had been generally understood that as soon as I was through college Uncle Frank would have a job for me. However, my roommate was insistent. And so, to be a good fellow, I drifted into a business to which twenty-four hours before I had never given a thought.

It was a wholesale hardware business. Joe and I began together in the shipping room and were promoted step by step until, within a few months of each other, we were sent out on the road. Both of us were well liked by the merchants with whom we dealt, were reasonably satisfactory from the standpoint of the house, and my six years on the road were on the whole the happiest I had known up to that time. I visited my customers in their homes, played with their youngsters, and I don’t know how their wives had managed to keep house at all before I began my visits.

“When you’re in New York, would you mind matching this piece of goods for me?” one of them would say.

Of course I wouldn’t mind! Anything to oblige the wife of a customer.

Such shopping commissions represented only a small part of the troubles my good nature brought onto my shoulders, however. I arranged reservations on ocean liners; I purchased new books for customers who read; and secured front-row theatre tickets for those who were going to be in New York. I attempted to collect — for friends — bad debts in towns on my route. I trimmed show windows at night for merchants who were up at the club playing poker when they ought to have been down at the store trimming their own show windows.

In short, I was to the people who did business with me what my father had been to the people who traded with him — a good-natured drudge who might be imposed upon without limit.

With it all I seemed to be making progress, for when Joe was appointed general manager, I was brought into the home office as assistant general manager of sales. The promotion was a surprise to me; and with the other good things that followed in the next eighteen months my life seemed to lack for no blessing. I met the loveliest girl in the world; we were engaged, and married, and began the happy process of paying for our own home.

I have heard that tramps have a private code by which they designate the character of households with chalk marks on the front gate posts. One symbol means, “Bad dog here.” Another means the house is inhabited by an old maid from whom no kindness may be expected. Then there is a shining mark of some sort which indicates that the home owner is just that — a shining mark.

Some such code, written or understood, must prevail among folks who want to unload their petty difficulties onto someone else. I have had men, whose names I never had heard, call me up and say: “I am a cousin of John Mifflin. John told me how you fixed him up with a couple of theatre tickets when he was in town last summer. He said he knew you would be glad to take care of me if I would give you a ring. John certainly thinks a lot of you; says you’re the most accommodating fellow in the world.” I have had women, whose husbands were merely casual acquaintances telephone my home at midnight to say that these same husbands had been arrested for speeding, and wouldn’t I please get hold of my friend, Judge Ingersoll, and see what I could do. I have had men who were distant relatives of men whom I had met only once or twice in my life ask me for letters of introduction to business executives whom I hardly knew at all.

Little by little, my office became a kind of rendezvous for people of all sorts who had odd jobs to be attended to or favors to be secured. I never realized to what extent the demands were increasing; it never occurred to me that, in being over-kind to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who applied to me, I was being unkind to the boss who paid my salary and to the wife who waited dinner until the dinner was spoiled.

Such a situation could have but one outcome. Sooner or later there was bound to be a decided crash. It came suddenly, and in a way which I could not possibly have anticipated. Joe’s father, the president, and chief stockholder in the business, died, and Joe became president in his place. That I would succeed him as vice president and general manager seemed a natural expectation. We had been room mates at college. Entering the business together we had come up through the different departments side by side. There was a general assumption that Joe would want me at his right hand.

Just after the funeral, while Joe was still away from the office, I was called West on a trip that was partly business and partly a personal favor to one of my friends. I was delayed for more than two weeks, and when I returned to the office it was evident at once that something had happened. The greeting of the girls at the reception desk, the quizzical glances of one or two men whom I passed in the hall — all these were straws indicating that things were not right. As soon as I reached my own office my secretary told me. The Western manager had been called into headquarters and made vice president and general manager. Joe, my own college mate and friend, had betrayed me while I was away!

She had hardly finished speaking when my telephone rang and Joe’s voice asked if I would see him in his own office. I went down the corridor hurt, angry, and reproachful. As I opened the door Joe stepped forward and took me by the hand, calling me by the old college nickname. I recoiled; the show of affection seemed merely an added blow. Yet his obvious sincerity softened my mood in spite of myself.:. A moment later we sat facing each other across the desk that had been his father’s and now was his.

For the first time in my life, I realized how much he resembled his father — in build, in the lines of his face, and in the swift, sure action of his mind. The discovery startled me. Joe had grown up! He had become a business executive, facing things in a mature business way. While I, carried along on the easy tide of routine and pleasantries, had remained, in a sense, a boy.

He drove straight at the heart of the matter in a way that reminded me of his father even more.

“I have made Daugherty general manager, Bert,” he began. “I wanted to tell you about it before it happened, but you were away and I couldn’t wait. I know you had many reasons to suppose that you would have the place. Until a few weeks ago I never had thought of anyone else for it. But my father thought otherwise. I appointed Daugherty in deference to his wish.”

I straightened up in amazement. His father had been almost like a father to me as well. I had done a thousand personal kindnesses for him. . . .

“Six weeks ago, Father knew from his physicians that there was no hope,” Joe continued quietly. “He sent for me, and we had a frank talk about the business. If I live to be a hundred I shall never forget the calm courage with which he faced the thing. We talked about you, Bert, and I told Father that I had always hoped you could come up to the top of the business with me. When I said that, the old man shook his head.

“‘I love him, Joe,’ he said to me. ‘I love him almost as if he were my own boy. But he’s got something to learn before he is fit for a responsibility such as that. He’s the nicest fellow in the world, and when you have said that you have praised him and condemned him in the same breath. He is everybody’s friend to such an extent that he is a very poor friend to himself. It was written a long time ago that no man can serve two masters. Bert, in his good-natured way, is trying to serve a thousand.'”

I need not report the conversation in detail. It began in Joe’s office, continued over the dinner table at the club, and ended at his front door, after we had walked together for hours up one street and down another, talking with a frankness such as few men ever achieve in their lives. And when at last he gripped my hand and left me, I continued the walk alone until in the cold gray morning I reached my decision to retire from the business of being a Good Fellow. That, as I said at the beginning, was five years ago.

I am afraid some reader may imagine that from being a good-natured friend of humanity I became all at once an unobliging and purely self-centered individual. That, I am sure, is not the case. I am giving away more money to-day in various sorts of charities than at any previous period of my life. I have helped more young men to find positions in the past year than in any previous year. I have added two invalids to my permanent roll of pensioners, and taken on a nephew whose college expenses I am helping to defray. I am not a dried-up, inhuman wretch. But I have made the big important shift in my life, just the same. I control my charities now; they do not control me. I am master of my time; it is not wasted wantonly among a thousand thoughtless folks. And while I find ways to do more than ever for those who really deserve help — the young, the sick, and the bereaved — I no longer allow myself to be sacrificed by the selfish demands of those who are perfectly able to take care of themselves.

Three things were very clear to me in that night of self-examination five years ago. First: A man’s chief loyalty must be to the woman who has joined her life to his; to the children who call him father; and to the business which feeds and clothes and houses them all. In my easy-going willingness to befriend the world at large, I was sacrificing my wife, my children, and my employer far more than I was sacrificing myself. As I look back, I marvel that my wife and the children should have borne with me as uncomplainingly as they did.

What was true of my family was true of the business as well. I thought I was being friendly to the customers of the house. As a matter of fact, I was too often being friendly to the customers at the expense of the house. It is a common fault in salesmen. They let a thousand trivial demands on the part of the men to whom they sell take their time and energy from the business of the men for whom they sell.

Second: I am convinced that indiscriminate charity, whether one gives money or time — which is life itself — merely pauperizes the recipients. The business and social world are full of respectable panhandlers, who will take and take and take, just as long as they can find anyone to give. I gave to them for years, at the expense of those who had a far better claim upon my generosity. I am still willing to help any man who honestly needs help. But as for the strong, perfectly well, and perfectly capable human beings who have chosen to ride through the world on someone else’s back, they will have to look for another beast of burden. They can buy their own theatre tickets, write their own letters of introduction, make their own hotel reservations, use somebody else’s office instead of mine for their engagements, and borrow money from the banks which are in business to lend.

And, finally, I am persuaded that no one ever achieves anything worth-while in this world unless he has so great a respect for his work that he compels all other men to respect it. Unless, in a word, he commands his time. Read the life of a great scientist like Agassiz. Was he forever at the world’s beck and call? Not for a single day. To letters inviting him to write, or to lecture for money, he replied that he had no time for those things. He was the custodian of a certain number of days — a number far too small for the great task he had laid out for himself — and he would not be diverted even for an instant.

I was explaining this point of view to a good old aunt of mine one afternoon and she exclaimed: “But, Joe, it is so selfish for a man to put his work ahead of everything! It’s unchristian.”

“On the contrary, it is Christian in the very finest sense,” I replied. “What was it that Jesus said when his parents rebuked him for his failure to keep his engagement with them on that first journey down from Jerusalem? ‘Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?’ He demanded. He had work to do — great work and little time in which to do it. Even He was no exception to the eternal rule that achievement comes only through the subordination of every power to a great ideal; and that no man is really obliging who does not first discharge in full his obligations to his work.”

Original page images (final two are composites of partial pages), click to enlarge:





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103 responses to “1922: Why I Quit Being So Accommodating

  1. Pingback: 1922: Why I Quit Being So Accommodating | Aysen Data | Scoop.it

  2. Thanks for posting. This was thought-provoking.

  3. Eric

    This was quite an interesting read. I think what the author forgot to do was not to sometimes say “no,” but to collect favours in return. Every good deed done for someone is a debt they then owe to you. Do for others what you can so that when you truly need their help, they can not themselves say no.

    • Ian S.

      That is a frightening prospect. A forced reciprocity is the death of goodwill, and leads not to more favors owed but merely to fewer favors performed. Do all one does without the expectation of return. Have work to do, and do it; if one does that work for another, it is one’s choice. If I demand something of another in exchange for my actions, it cheapens us both– it becomes my business, rather than my pleasure. All are free to deny me their help, for, as I am judicious with my time, I am not dependent upon them. Yet because I offer my assistance without the explicit demand of return, I have never lacked the help I have required.

      • SP

        Ian is right… Guilting someone into reciprocating a good deed gives it the semblance of a cold business transaction. And while I can appreciate someone’s effectiveness in doing a good deed for me, they will never have the full scope of my trust. And what are relationships, business or personal, without trust?

      • zachandclem

        I agree with every one in this particular discussion, lol. He indeed should have made it clear, that doing things for other people wasn’t something that should be freely accepted. Being a good friend, implies being able to ASK for things. And if asked, people keep saying no, you need to draw your conclusions. But I also agree that the cold economic concept of reciprocity isn’t a very good basis for favors, and that it undermines the idea of selflessly doing something for someone else. I think the bone is in the middle; you can’t let people take advantage of you, but sometimes it’s good to be a Jesus, and to give, with absolutely no strings attached. The distinction of “only doing stuff for people closest” is also depressing; that means you can’t help someone out in the street when you see them struggling with their grocery bags. Helping strangers is sometimes more gratifying than helping your mother-in-law, though!! Well maybe expecting gratitude, is already past the point of no strings attached……..

    • John

      And here we have an idiot with an entitlement complex.

  4. Pingback: 1922: Why I Quit Being So Accommodating | Think Novus.

  5. Ayn Rand

    This is politically timely…. the US is overrun with “do gooders” who claim to have a right to the time, effort and money of others, because “its for a good cause”. In reality, it is for selfish reasons. They want to enslave others and claim its to “help the poor” but never admit that its to help themselves, if not to profit directly, but to relieve themselves of the burden of helping the poor they want to help.

    Now that class of moochers who live at the expense of others has become “respectable” and has become employees of the government and soon will outnumber the productive people in society.

    Which is a large reason why the US economy is tanking… the spending to keep these moochers in their upper class houses has broken the backs of the rest of the people, the productive people, who barely can make ends meet, their taxes are so high.

    And despite this reality, rather than cut spending and put the moochers to work, the national debate is about how high to raise taxes!

    • How is freshman year going?

    • scott

      What a ridiculous comment. It’s as if you don’t exist in the real world, and instead the imaginary one crafted by right wing talking heads. Which is unsurprising, given you’ve chosen the name “Ayn Rand”.

      The economy is doing poorly for a multitude of reasons. A multitude of complex, global reasons. Some domestic ones, too. Things you could debate for years. You can’t distill the economic woes of an entire planet down to “blame the poor.” The most powerless and marginalized of society don’t have the means to cause its destruction. Avoid the propaganda for a while and do some independent reading before you lose the ability to form an original, rational thought.

      • dane

        +1 For being a dipshit… rinse, wash, repeat.

      • Stephen

        Actually IMHO Ayn has a valid point, there are a significant number of takers that just keep taking with no thought on their part that there is any need for reciprocity.
        @ Ian.S guess you must be one of the vast unemployed or beneficiaries as I love forced reciprocity, especially when the renumeration hits my bank account.

      • Ludwig von Hayek

        Nice diversion.

        Commenter Ayn Rand is not ‘blaming the poor’, she is blaming the rich – specifically those who siphon other peoples hard earned money into their own pockets under the pretext of helping the poor. Of course, the poor never actually benefit, but the ‘do gooders’ still expect to be congratulated for their wonderful intentions.

    • I also immediately thought of Ayn Rand. Anthem, Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged are among my favorite books.

    • B A

      Yes, I completely agree. We must stop all those huge companies on corporate welfare that take billions in taxpayer’s money for making millions of dollars in donations to political campaigns. Moochers!

  6. Mark

    Thank you for the article. As I have been going through my own examination of my life at 47 this article hits home. I’ve always been the “good guy”, at the expense of myself and my family. This puts into words so much of what I have known inside. Hopefully I can retire from this job sometime in the near future….before it’s too late.

    • This post and your comment struck a chord with me because they are an eye opener for how I have lived my life and why I’m in the current situation I’m in. That said, I used to believe the point you made in your comment, Eric, but I can assure you that things don’t often work that way. I have often found that when I’ve needed help in the past (and I’ve been very resistive to asking for it), the people who I’ve helped are rarely willing to help me. Perhaps I am just a bad judge of character but at this point, I more believe that people generally look out for number one and unless it really suits them, don’t really go out of their way to consider anyone else. It’s a shame because I’d like to believe that this cant be the way the world is but unfortunately, I have to accept it. Not doing so would only continue to be detrimental to me.

      • Nisa

        Dan, I found the same thing. I think it’s because we establish relationships with our friends based on us giving and them receiving. The type of friend who is content to be a receiver over the years is not the type who is going to suddenly become a giver. There is benefit in always being the giver, you are more in control of the relationship, feel self satisfaction in being generous, and never have the burden of feeling gratitude to someone else. We are to blame if our relationships are one sided.

  7. patrick g

    I really appreciated it, and, it is a great read for those few days before the New Year, when you sit and think about what worked and what didn’t.

  8. I can’t believe I read the whole text. Did you run a OCR program or did you type it all?

    • mikecane

      It’s from Google Books, where the plain text is available — if you don’t mind fighting their horrible system to get it. Getting it is just the first step, it has to be proofed too, due to many OCR errors.

  9. This is AWESOME. Fortunately I started to learn this lesson years ago, but I still have a bit to learn…

    • I only recently learnt to say no to others and boy did I feel good for doing so when the person asking for help had “selfish demands” and whom was “perfectly able to take care of [himself]”.

  10. Pingback: Why I Quit being so accommodating | Tony Kwon

  11. The author of the copied work was excessively generous in the way of thought and action. How do I arrive at such a pronouncement? What measure is there available to me to recognize his tendency to excessive generosity? There are three ways in which one can exercise a virtue: action, thought, and feeling. Without specifying one of the three, a virtue is meaningless. You may choose to disbelieve me, but in doing so, you are simply associating virtue with one of the three ways in which it may be exercised. Generosity in the way of feeling is better known by the terms “sympathy” “empathy”. Generosity in the way of action is generally shorthanded by “generous”, and generosity in the way of thought is, if you haven’t yet arrived at the term “considerateness.” Now of course there are synonyms that provide for nuanced distinctions, combinations of generosity in two or more ways, or even generosity in one way or another cooperating with another virtue being exercised in another way. Discussion of such is beyond the scope of this comment however.

    How then does one evaluate the measure of a virtue in one way or another? By checking it as compared to the measure of the same virtue in another way. Why does the Federal Goverment comprise three branches? As a means to provide for checks and balances to ensure the measured operation of the state. The author recognized that the by which he could restrain his tendency towards excessive generosity in the way of thought and action was to first practice generosity in the way of feeling. If he felt little sympathy or recognized a self-serving motivation behind another’s request of his time, he was now able to decline to take action.

    The problem arose from his father’s ignorance that a way to make such an evaluation was available. It may be that as a child his father knew of such, but was taught to ignore (sacrifice) his feelings.

    The moral to the story, and the gist of my comment is rather simple, each of us are endowed with the ability to feel, think and act. We each are sensitive, capable and adaptable in a measure according to the laws of nature. It is unjust to teach one to sacrifice any of the foregoing in the pursuit of any end. Learned ignorance indicates the absence of justice.

    • James

      Hey man, question. Why did you choose the words that you did? You could have gotten the point across with simpler words and phrases.

      I think I speak for a lot of people when I say, it took too much effort to unravel what you were trying to say, so most people scrolled on by. I tried to decipher it and decoded a bit, but it would have been much easier had it been written simpler.

      For me, communication is the purpose of writing. If that is your purpose too, then I would recommend you write simply.

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  13. ReaderX

    He compares his chosen occupation to that of a deity commanded by God? That’s a pretty big stretch at equivalency that borders on mania. These fictional essays have to be taken with a grain of salt. You can’t be a doormat to the world, but few truly are. This piece leans too heavily on justifying self-centered behavior and is tantamount to exhaulting greed provided scant few crumbs are nominally shared. In reality, the wisest among us learn to balance life so we’re giving to meaningful help the less fortunate and generously spending our precious time with the ones who love us, all without going broke or being abused. It’s not a black and white world of callous extremes.

    • >You can’t be a doormat to the world, but few truly are
      >In reality, the wisest among us learn to balance life
      These are two extremes. Your reasoning does not support your assertion “This piece leans too heavily on justifying self-centered behavior and is tantamount to exalting greed” because what you say can only be objectively true (and false) for 1/2 of all people.

  14. Perfect story. I used to think it was necessary to oblige, then I began to realise that it didn’t work. Being that “good fella” only makes others imagine that you’ll fix your own problems, just like you’d fixed theirs. Until I chanced upon a poetry by Paul Durcan, “Centre of the Universe”. I blogged about it too – it got me to realise the importance of discretion. I lean towards the negative side these days, but I’m sure we’ll all find the right time to strike the right balance.

  15. Thanks for that. I’m starting to give away my time (life) much more carefuly right now!

  16. Thanks posted,spent a lots of time to read this~

  17. After years of being a people-pleaser with clients at work, I discovered that there seems to be an exact correlation between the degree of demands a person will make, and how much the fulfillment of those demands will ultimately be appreciated. Unfortunately, this equation is rarely a positive one; i.e., the more someone expects you to bend over backwards for them, the less likely it is they will express (and presumably, feel) any appreciation for your efforts. I suppose that may be because the people who repeatedly ask for the most feel they are entitled to that much, and thus don’t subsequently see a need to reciprocate or even say thank you.
    While I am speaking generally, of course, I have definitely experienced this as a regular pattern! Hence, I have become like Bert and now keep my boundaries clear.

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  19. Thanks for all the effort you have put in to get this whole thing converted into text and proofread and posted here. And then for whoever upvoted it on HN. Thanks a ton.

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  21. I think the most important line there is: “I control my charities now; they do not control me. I am master of my time; it is not wasted wantonly among a thousand thoughtless folks. ”

    The author was beyond helpful and friendly, he was a pushover. I doubt anyone who reading this article is as friendly and accommodating as he was. I go out of my way to help people, because I enjoy it, but there’s a difference between helping people and doing their work for them. I feel like at the end he’s become a great person who respects his own time, but most people(In the U.S. at least) need to be more generous with their time, not less.

  22. Thora

    I find it interesting that this article was written in the roaring twenties.

    The author describes his father’s selfless sacrifice to his community’s needs and displays contempt for father’s relative lack of material remuneration. The druggist father’s mindset was prevalent in America before the stock bubble of the twenties freed man from polite dependence upon his neighbor. America’s communities were built by men involved in them, humble men like the author’s father.

    When this article was written Ponzi was busy making men rich, not by sacrificing more for his neighbor, but by applying greater demands for interest to unknown parties. With increasing participation in the stock market, anxiety over the growth of capital swept man away from his neighbor and into the peril of a collapsing, uncaring pyramid scheme.

    The end-result of the author’s mindset is evidenced in the stock market crash of 1929. In it, those who sought to distance themselves from their fellow man were ruined in isolation. Men like the author were humbled in the depression, recalling that a simple kindness is more powerful than an inflated grievance over the compensation imagined due for good deeds.

    The good are so not for any worldly gain. Good is evidenced in men like the author before his “discovery”, men who were good by nature and for its own sake. One will know a good man, not when the market is “booming”, but rather, when things are bust and one is in need.

    • Appreciate the historical insights – Would it not be valid however to view the author as someone who was in need when things for him did go bust? Also, that the people who were using him for his kindness were the ones who were in need of humbling? They were capable of writing their cover letters on their own and getting their movie tickets on their own, weren’t they?

  23. Thanks so much for providing us with this great article. So many of these things ring true today even though it was written so many decades ago.

  24. Tap

    This is a great article, particularly for the time period, too bad an author is not listed. I do have an argument though:

    “First: A man’s chief loyalty must be to…woman, children, and his job…”

    I have to argue this. A man’s chief loyalty must be to himself. Man needs to be selfish, it’s his truest honesty, and anytime you prioritize anything before yourself you are lying.

    Example, marriage, you got married because you are selfish or at least I hope so. Do you love the way you feel when you spend time with your wife? Selfish. Do you love the sound of your wife’s laugh when you make a joke? Selfish. People usually miss view this when they think that by making their wife laugh they are doing something for their wife, they’re not; they’re being selfish they just don’t recognize it. Selfishness is never necessarily a zero sum gain; the term has simply grown to carry negative connotations. Look at it from the other way.

    Your wife asks you to mow the lawn and you oblige because you think you are doing good by doing good for another, you’re lying. Unless the good feeling you get by mowing the lawn outweighs the pain of mowing the lawn, you’re lying. Even worse is when people give to another with the expectation of getting something from them in some future return. You accept mowing the lawn because you expect sex later; you’re lying to the N-th degree, your particuarly lying to yourself if you don’t admit this. Don’t believe this is lying? Next time your wife asks you to do something tell her what you would want in return and then watch her. If she looks at you as though she does not know who you are, it’s because she doesn’t, and that is because you have been lying for such a long time. You can’t be loyal to something or someone and lie at the same time. This goes for all relationships.

    Man’s only obligation or loyalty in life is the pursuit of his own happiness, but we are social creatures so you are not going to obtain that happiness alone, I promise you, but committing to others when you don’t receive the benefits of a mutual exchange is dishonest to those that you claim to be loyal to.

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  26. I’ve never suffered from this affliction.Just the opposite perhaps. If people ask me to do things I do not want to do tehm I will often say no, If that’s not possible at the time, I will ignore or undermine them. Eventually I’ll suffer the consequences, but I don’t blame anyone for my bad attitude. I always know exactly what I’m doing – saying no, no and hell no is lesson we all need to learn as soon as possible.

    • mikecane

      I’m wondering if that prevents you from asking for help when you need it — and I mean *really* need it — because you think others will just say No to you?

      • Nisa

        John, Lots of self awareness! You don’t blame anyone for the consequences, but yourself, and recognize your bad attitude. Do you ever say yes? and what are the criteria? Do you have some good relationships with people? And do you ask for help from others?

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  29. Reblogged this on meredith l mcguire and commented:
    Absolutely fantastic piece; I love the depth, honesty and length to which the author goes to explain the need to end self-sacrifice.

    It makes me wonder at the small ways in which I still accommodate and indulge the world….

  30. Fantastic piece, I love that you’ve found and shared it!

    I’ve re-blogged it on my own site, meredithlmcguire.wordpress.com , so I might remember it and keep it close.

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  32. Excellent article, thanks for posting. I almost did not read due to the length, but I’m glad I did. I suppose there is a little bit of this guy in all of us and the key is to realize it and live our lives intentionally, exactly how he managed to do.

    While starting and growing a business in 2012, one of the best things I’ve learned is the art of saying No. Along the way, I picked up this quote: ‘It’s easy to say No when there is a bigger Yes awaiting you.’

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  37. Great essay and this is actually something I’m working on as well. You hit it on the nail when you say it’s all about being in control of the 24 hours you are given every day. It’s definitely a fine line between being accommodating because you feel compelled to and when you actually want to.

    What was your experience right after you made the switch 5 years ago? Did it affect your relationships?

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  45. What a fantastic article. Thanks for posting.

    I was lead here by a comment on an HBR blog: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/01/become_your_own_best_gatekee.html

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  48. +1 on the article…. Prioritize what’s best for you. But if your find Being Mr/Mrs.Nice will benefit your so be it . I just wish people will understand that we all have equal amount of time on this planet . Spend it wisely.

  49. Great article. The line “you have praised him and condemned him in the same breath” was a great insight into why being so accommodating can be a negative thing.

    How we manage our time and who we spend it on says a lot about our priorities and principles. Hopefully it’s being spent on the important people in our lives and those truly in need, not the distractors who are too lazy to do things for themselves.

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  51. Victor Lee

    Reblogged this on Victor Life List and commented:
    Why I Quit Being So Accomodating

  52. Pingback: 2012 Reflection: The Year That Was

  53. Reblogged this on Dr Sue Black and commented:
    Interesting and thought provoking…

  54. This would be challenging for the overly nice ones. Reblogging this.

  55. Sonia Mukundane Kyamutetera
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  58. Varun Gupta

    Nice article. You didn’t share how it affected your professional and personal life once you stopped being so accommodating. Did you get the promotion you deserved? Are you still working at the same company? Are you spending more time with your family now?

  59. lujz

    What did Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz do, though? His Wikipedia entry is empty.

  60. lujz

    Never mind, it must have been Louis Agassiz.

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  62. k4lr4gu0

    Thank you for sharing this insightful piece with us.

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  67. Ahadi

    Boy am I glad I went to read that post in r/offmychest.

    Best advice I have ever gotten

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  70. Margot

    First of all, thank you for sharing this with us. As I see it, his life was being lived by others, and thus he forgot what was really important.
    This was really an eye-opener to read.

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  72. Pingback: Are You 'Productive' or Just 'Busy?' Answer These 5 Questions (Honestly) to Find Out. | Optimize Yourself

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