Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Several days ago I posed this question to my Facebook friends:  What is the difference between being used and being useful?

Just 3 answered publicly.  A few more answered privately.  And with a couple of them it opened a long discussion that revealed many of us do feel used a lot more than we feel useful even though distinguishing between them was often difficult.  It seems to be a matter of our own perception more than the task at hand.


The idea of being used brought up a lot of negative words and emotions:  stuck, powerless, a burden, worthlessness, a lack of opportunity or worthiness to have (or be treated) better, resentment and anger toward both the 'user' and the situation.  Those words sum up the idea of being used... at least from the perspective of the person being used.

But what about the times when we are the user?  As much as we may not want to admit it, there are times when we use others to get the things we want.  I'm not saying it's always conscious.  And it's not necessarily a ruthless act.  It's not even inherently bad.  I'm just asking everyone to take a good look at how they feel about the person they are using.  Do you see the cashier at McDonald's as worth less than Wall Street's hottest stock broker?  A look at payscale would indicate that society places more value on the broker... even though, ironically, they are providing the same core service:  facilitating the exchange of one item of value for another item of value.


Seeing yourself as useful was positive and included words like:  priceless, vital, being a blessing, engaged in a task (or its outcome), satisfaction and being in charge of your own destiny.  These are the powerful and empowering emotions we all innately crave.  These ideas are the things that make our ego feel good.

Also interesting was the idea that the two conditions can exist simultaneously - you can see that you are being selfishly used but because you engage wholeheartedly in the activity you also feel useful.  My dear friend, Heidi, gave an example from a Church group she participated in:  Each year for Christmas, this very small Church put up an 'Angel Tree' with information about children in the community who were in need and would not otherwise have a Christmas.  All of the Ladies' Auxiliary were to participate  in gathering the clothes and food and gifts but year after year organizing everything fell to Heidi.  Some years a few of the ladies would change the ground rules part way through the season so that instead of the 50 children they'd agreed on, suddenly they were providing Christmas for 70.  Many times the needed toys and clothing for these extra 20 kids also fell to Heidi to provide because no one else in the congregation would step up to help.  Heidi was aware that she always got the task because they knew she'd follow through to complete it.  She felt the burden, both on time and finances, every year and while in the process sometimes resented it.  Isn't that the very definition of being used?  But she was fully engaged and felt like what she was doing made a difference in the world so she also felt deeply satisfied... and useful.

The trick, it seems, is to find the switch... to open the right door from all the choices that present themselves.  Used or useful?  Finding and keeping a 'useful' mindset is something I struggle with in the circumstances of my every day.

I know that my choices have closed some doors in my life.  Now I just need to figure out what new ones have been opened.  And start taking advantage of all those new opportunities to be...


If you cannot make a change, change the way you have been thinking. You might find a new solution. Never whine. Whining lets a brute know that a victim is in the neighborhood.    Maya Angelou

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