vow to be good

Will others benefit from your new year’s resolution—or will it only be you?

December 30, 2013
December 30, 2013

It will soon be 10 years since I resolved to be of more help to others without expectation of return. I didn’t decide to give more to charity or volunteer at a soup kitchen. I decided to find ways I could make things better that will not be done unless I do them. Here’s how:

In January of 2004, I placed an ad for a job I needed to fill. So many inexperienced people answered that I decided to offer them all three weeks of training before hiring one of them. It went so well that I got my budget increased and I hired two people instead of just one. Because I still had a surplus of great candidates, I rented a ballroom in a midtown hotel and invited other employers to meet them all. Dozens of people came from as far away as California and England. A few of them hired some of my candidates and a few others adopted my train first-then hire approach.

It was then that I resolved to put spare time and creative effort into helping others without expectation of return. Not only did I change my hiring practices (see my previous column for Quartz, How to hire good people instead of nice people) but over the years I also created NoShortageOfWork.com to help unemployed and underemployed people, and Q54Club.org to help people create their own personal philosophy of life. I haven’t made a dime out of any of these endeavors.

Interestingly, I often get angry reactions from people who hear my story but don’t know me or my employer. They accuse me of taking effort away from making money for my employer. Actually, my employer likes the way I hire because it yields much better employees for less money and time than if I give the task to a headhunter. People also demand to know where I find the time. Simple; I don’t watch TV, attend spectator sports, or spend much time in small talk.

Negative responses to good behavior have been studied by academics like Craig Parks of Washington State University. See: Do-Gooders Get Voted Off Island First: People Don’t Really Like Unselfish Colleagues. Some people think that if you do good things that means they should too, so they will become aggressive in putting you down. Understanding this helped me formulate a response when challenged to justify what I do. I say, “I doubt you would berate me if I had a hobby like collecting stamps or exotic cars, would you? Well, this is like that except that I’ve decided to collect heartfelt gratitude.” This leaves the complainers satisfied– unless, of course, I ask them how their gratitude collection is coming along.

I’m not a bleeding heart, I am not a member of any service organizations, and I do not give more than a few hundred dollars a year to charity. But my 10-year-old resolution to help others in my own unique ways has been the best resolution I’ve ever made—and the easiest to keep. Now, if I could just lose some weight.

This is the time of year when people think about these things. Most resolutions are about being good, but are you resolving to be good just for your own sake or also the sake of others? And if you cannot think of something good to do now, will you at least resolve to do something when you think of it?

Have you made a commitment to go beyond charity and volunteering and be creative in how you help others in ways nobody else does? Have you lived up to that commitment? If so, please tell me your story and let me know if I can use it in a subsequent article.

Brooke Allen’s website is BrookeAllen.com. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com. 

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