“To those who have lived long together, everything heard and everything seen recalls some pleasure communicated, some benefit conferred” (Samuel Johnson).

AS OUR RELATIONSHIPS MATURE, THEY BECOME STOREHOUSES OF GOOD MEMORIES. As Johnson put it, “everything heard and everything seen recalls some pleasure communicated, some benefit conferred.” At least, that’s the way it is if the parties to the relationship have actually been conferring benefits on each other.

I like to think of the words “benefit” and “benevolence” as first cousins. Both come from Latin, with the first part of each compound being bene (“good”). To have a “benevolent” attitude is to have goodwill. The last half of “benefit,” however, comes from facere (“to do”), implying more than simply wishing someone well. It means doing a good deed that actually renders service and helps someone.

It would be a fine thing if more of us sought mutual benefit in all our dealings. Selfishness, which seeks only personal benefit regardless of how many other people’s backs have to be broken, is one of the most destructive things in the world. “The parasitical belief in prosperity as coming by the sacrifices of others has no place in the mind that thinks true. ‘My benefit is your benefit, your success is my success’ should be the basis of all our wealth” (Annie Rix Militz). Other people are not our tools, and they have no more duty to serve our needs than we have to serve theirs. True benefit is always a two-way street.

Indeed, when we have received a personal benefit, that increases our responsibility to benefit others. The more we have received, the more we need to give back. “As [a person] is to profit by the safety and prosperity the community provides, so he must seek its good and place his personal will at its disposal. Benefit and burden, power and responsibility go together” (James Bryce).

Sometimes, of course, it is not possible for us to “give back” to the very same person or group that benefitted us. And so we are thankful for the concept of “paying forward” our benefits. In other words, you benefit me, and I take that benefit and use it to help someone else.

“We cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefits we receive must be rendered again line for line, deed for deed to somebody” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

Gary Henry – WordPoints.com

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