Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The brain burden

Is it the responsibility of the skilled or knowledgeable to assist the ignorant?

I’m an intelligent person, skilled an experienced in many things. If someone I know comes asks me to do something that they lack the skill, experience, and frankly intelligence, to do themselves, am I obliged to do it for them?

Let me be more specific.

I’ve built a few websites in my day, some better than others, some easier than others. Someone recently approached me to ask that I, as a favour, help them create one. Being a generous sort of person, I agreed… I provided them with all the information they needed to build one themselves.

It’s not rocket-science to make the sort of website they wanted… in fact it’s exceptionally easy, and amounts to little more than filling in a few online forms: less than an hour’s work for someone who has never done it before.

For some reason, that wasn’t enough for them. They seemed to think that they needed more help from me. And when I wasn’t available to do it (the fact that I had no desire to do it is frankly irrelevant) they got very snotty and rude about it. Remember, this was a favour, not a paid job.

These people aren’t close friends of mine, by any measure. Although it’s likely that if I needed their assistance with something, they would help, it’s highly unlikely that I would never need their help with anything… there’s simply nothing they can do that I can’t do myself.

Plus I’ve done a great many favours for them already… the favour balance-sheet is heavily weighted in my direction. They already owe me big time. What right do they have to get snotty with me now?

It’s as if they feel that as someone with the brains to do it, I owe it to them to do this. My inner communist agrees to some extent: “From each, according to his ability, to each, according to his need.” I’m all for reciprocal altruism, but where exactly is the reciprocity if they have nothing I need or want? Should I continue doing them these favours on the off-chance that someday they may acquire something that might satisfy a need of mine? How long should I wait, and how much work should I put into it?

I’ve always been a sucker, running to the aid of anyone who needed my help. I used to take pleasure and satisfaction from it. But I’ve recently realized that by doing that I may not necessarily be helping people… just delaying their personal growth and development by acting as a crutch for them.

I now feel that it’s far more valuable to provide people with the information they need to be able to learn how to do it themselves. “Give a man a fish…”

In this case it’s especially valuable, since they needed a simple website that could be regularly updated. Is it not more logical to be able to update it yourself, rather than have to run to someone else to do it for you every time?

These people are obviously not intelligent enough to recognize that what I’ve already done for them (giving them the means rather than the product) is better, as demonstrated by their ingratitude. Why should I have to put up with their short-sightedness and ignorance?