From My Perspective – Bass Lessons and Gratitude

Many years ago I needed to learn how to play bass guitar on the keyboard. It was my responsibility to play and program all the bass riffs in the songs my group was performing, and as a classically-trained pianist, I felt rather inept at playing bass. I explained my problem to our band manager, and she arranged for a young bass player to come over to my place to teach me what I needed to know. His name was Roark – a handsome young man in his late teens, and a talented musician. By the end of the evening he had taught me much more than just how to play bass; he had given me an important lesson in humanity.

Roark spent several hours demonstrating how to play bass sequences, showed me how bass fits in rhythmically with drums and percussion, recorded countless samples of bass riffs that fit different musical styles, and showed me how I could translate everything from guitar bass to keyboard bass. He patiently taught me patterns and rhythms, answering my questions and waiting while I practiced what I was learning. I felt like a real dummy at times, but Roark was patient and encouraging as I learned.

At the end of the evening I asked him how much I owed him for his time and teaching. To my surprise, he absolutely refused to accept any payment, stating that his philosophy did not allow it. When I questioned this, he explained. He believed that if we do something kind and helpful for another person, we should not accept payment beyond thanks for it, since that is part of our mutual obligation to each other as humans. He asked me to instead do something kind and helpful for another person – that he would consider that as payment in full.

His words stunned me, since I had never before encountered someone with that kind of thinking. It was more than just doing kind things for others, or the “golden rule” of “do unto to others what you wish they would do unto you.” The idea that we should do things freely for someone in the hopes that they will repay us by going out and doing things freely for others was a novel one. I resolved then and there to incorporate Roark’s philosophy into my life, and whenever possible, to pass it on to others. I had always believed that “what goes around comes around” and this idea was a positive spin on the notion – not only will you get back what you give, but you can take action in influencing others. Roark’s version of the “golden rule” was: do unto others what you wish them to do unto others, and expect nothing in return.

It is a wonderful philosophy to live by. Over the years I have tried to always give freely of myself to others, helping out without expecting anything in return, encouraging the recipients to “pass it on” to others. I’ve tried to bring up my children to be this way. Another facet of this philosophy is that of responsibility. Perhaps this comes partly from being a first born, but I tend to accept responsibility for things – I take charge and can be depended on to get the job done. Since I would like others to be responsible and not let people down, in effect I am modelling that behaviour. I often refuse to take credit for accomplishments, instead passing the accolades onto my friends and co-workers, allowing them to accept the thanks, and sometimes even the payment.

Unfortunately there is a down side to this philosophy. Many do not accept such thinking – instead expecting payment for all services rendered. Others accept it selfishly, and take advantage of your kindness and willingness to do something for nothing. Still others take advantage of the fact that you are responsible, and sit back and let you do the work while they take the credit.

I’ve experienced all three, and sadly it’s often been friends and family who are sometimes the worst at taking advantage. People know that I will do the job without asking anything in return, they know that I will take responsibility and ensure that the job gets done – so they step back and make excuses while I do the work. I even had one co-worker go so far as to say that he let me do all the work since I wanted it that way! In reality, of course, he was just taking advantage of the fact that if he refused to do the job for long enough I would take responsibility and get the job done. Because he knew I would do this without accepting credit, it also made it very easy for him to create the impression that he had done nothing wrong. Others are not quite so blatant, but they also take advantage of my reliability. They know that I’ll be there at a certain meeting or appointment, that they can rely on me to not let others down, so they make little or no effort to fulfil their obligations, letting me do it instead. Many simply take my reliability for granted, acting as though it is my obligation – simply because I’ve let them believe that.

I know it goes against my philosophy to expect anything in return, but at times its very discouraging. It is particularly discouraging when so few persons pass it on and do things for others when you’ve done things for them. It is the ultimate discouragement when those you’ve helped and been kind to, do repay you – but with negative actions towards yourself or others. I’ve had the experience where I’ve worked exceptionally hard on a project for months, making huge personal sacrifices and covering for others who were unable or unwilling to do the work – only to be told that I was only doing what was required of me anyway, and that my extra effort was unneeded and unappreciated. Many would argue that you get what you deserve when you allow people to take advantage of you, when you take responsibility to get the job done, when you burn yourself out working, while others take it easy. This is likely true. However I don’t think I would enjoy living in a world filled with people who do not take responsibility, and who are not willing to do things for others without expecting something in return.

Certainly I’m not alone in this. Through the years I’ve met many other “Roarks” who share the philosophy. But it seems that lately these types are becoming harder to find – or perhaps more of us are becoming discouraged. I’ve spoken to others who are like me, tired of being taken advantage of, tired of doing things for others without receiving even a word of gratitude – let alone having the favour passed on to someone else. We have become bitter and disillusioned, and where once we might have willingly acted and taken responsibility, we are stopping to think twice, not quite so eager to do the job freely, not quite so ready to make personal sacrifices when others are unwilling to do the same. We are less willing to give extra of ourselves when many of those around us only do the minimum required.

It is quite possible that those who do not share this philosophy may genuinely not realize they are putting such a burden on people like me. Most people tend to be very self-centered, in that they are completely caught up in their own life and immediate circle of activities. Perhaps they are not deliberately standing back and letting others do the work, but are simply not observant enough to notice that this is occurring. Since those of us who accept responsibility tend to do the job and keep our mouth shut while the resentment builds, maybe they are simply unaware that there is a problem.

Unfortunately when the negative attitude starts to build, it only makes things worse. More and more of us become burned out and bitter, and soon even fewer people are willing to take responsibility and get the job done. Even fewer people are willing to do something freely with the only expectation being that this same favour will be passed on to someone else. When such an attitude takes over, we all lose.

We need more “Roarks” in this world, but we also need to show them that we value their philosophy and their willingness to bear the burden of responsibility. If we are not in a position to do something for another right at the moment, then we can at least say thank you and show our appreciation. If we are in a position to act, then we can get out there and repay the favour by passing it on. Gratitude does not just come in the form of words – its even more valuable when it comes in the form of action. Perhaps its idealistic of me, but I do believe that if we all added the philosophy of “do unto others what you wish them to do unto others” to the traditional “do unto others what you wish them to do unto you,” we would live in a far better world.

Debbie is a native Edmontonian, and a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology, and currently serves as the president of the Athabasca University Students’ Union.