Sometimes, Being “Used” Isn’t Such A Bad Thing: Lessons from Life’s Classroom

I had a conversation today with an elder that I really cherished. This person, an African-American born in 1930, allowed me and a colleague to ask questions about what his life experiences were like living and coming of age in the era of segregation so that his story could be shared with others as a part of a historical film project.

One of the final questions we asked was about what he was most proud of in his life, and why. His response was one that really touched me, and one that affirmed my belief in interconnectedness, reciprocity in relationships, paying it forward, and the philosophy of Ubuntu.

In addition to raising his children and being fortunate to see them grow into wonderful people who have started their own families, he mentioned being most proud of “being able to be used.”

He has reached a level of success in his life that is very significant, and during our time together, he made mention of the people who have helped him to grow and succeed personally and professionally.

This elder, who had become one of the best in his chosen field quoted the old adage saying that “to those whom much is given, much is expected.”

Still remaining very active in his profession and interests, he mentioned being most proud of the fact that he has been, and is still able to be “used” by others who might follow in his footsteps, helping them along, as he had been helped during his lifetime.

He talked about how important it was for him to have a focus on being of service to others, and how maintaining that focus has benefitted him greatly in his life.

Reinforcing his belief in another timeless saying, mentioning that “it is much better to give than to receive”, he noted that after looking back over his life and doing an honest assessment of the people he has had an opportunity to teach, mentor, or help in some other way, he found that in more cases than not, he’d learned more from them, than they did from him.

I found an important lesson and reminder in his simple, yet profound response that I won’t soon forget.

Sometimes, being “used” isn’t such a bad thing.


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW



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I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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2 Responses

  1. geof says:

    “From those to whom much has been given, much is expected.” is a quote which speaks to my aspirations. I’ve been given a ton in opportunities, in love, and in terms of dozens of other measures. I’ve got a lot of giving left to give to bring the scales back close to even. The best part is with every effort to give back, I find the scales grow bigger and with them my debt does too. Given what that debt is, I couldn’t be happier.

    • Hey geof,

      I too have been helped and inspired by others who have impacted me positively throughout my life, I feel as if I have a debt that can only be repaid through using what I gain to help someone else as I have been helped. This “debt” is a good debt that has served and continues to serve as a form of inspiration for me when I feel as if I’m losing my way.

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