These days a lot of people are asking for help. Big corporations, small companies, rich people, poor folks - many, many will ask for some kind of help and it will probably have something to do with money.
For example, GM's chairman Rick Wagoner is expected in Congress this week ostensibly to deliver a status report, but in reality he will most certainly ask for another installment of bailout money. Presumably, he will present impressive data indicating a turnaround and rosy predictions for the future. How do we know whether to help?
To be sure, granting requests is a complex process. We confront these decisions all the time even within our families.
As a case in point, a friend of mine has a daughter, divorced, in her late 20s. She periodically asks her mother, who is a CPA, for money. More often than not, mother accedes to daughter's request. "How can I say no," she asks rhetorically, but "sometimes," I feel that I am aiding and abetting a state of helplessness. Should I say yes? Should I say no?"
"What comes to mind when she asks you," I inquired. "I keep thinking of the time NYC was broke and asked then-President Gerald Ford for a rescue and he famously refused." That touchstone moment for my generation was immortalized in the infamous NY Daily News headline from the 1970s: Ford to City: Drop Dead.
Ultimately, the city survived the crisis and rose to ever greater heights of prosperity, but it begs the question: what barometer does one use to make such mercy decisions?
Here's one unscientific idea: If the request sounds like singing, consider granting it, if it sounds like whining, let ‘em rot.
The person, who puts his requests in the form of a song, has taken his predicament and transformed it in such a way that it makes sense and engages people. The late psychoanalyst Morton F. Reiser suggested that song, as opposed to mere words, convey an extensive vocabulary of emotion.
An excellent example of this is something called the Kilolo Water Project, an effort to get fresh water to the people who live along the famous Rafuji River in Tanzania. This great water source is going dry. The residents of one such village, Pommern, have made their request for help into beautiful choral music. (See NPR's http://theworld.org/node/24569)
For an example closer to home study President Obama's recent presidential bid: He rose early every day during a long grueling campaign and sang his song of change. By contrast, other candidates slogged through the campaign as though it were something they had to put up with. They were perceived as whiners.
Why do we often give to the singer and not the whiner?" The singer knows he is part of the human family and people respond to him as such. The whiner sets himself apart. He feels wronged. He resents having to work so hard to get what he feels is coming to him anyway. Unconsciously, he directs feeling back toward himself - negatively.
My friend's daughter is one such case. She is a beautiful, capable young woman who has an intermittent relationship with a paycheck. There is a chronic quality to her requests for money, and to her mother, at least, her requests, no matter how reasonable, convincing or emotional (for tuition, for help with her home heating bill, car troubles) do have the strains of the dreaded whine. It might well be a kindness, to say no to her.
What about Rick Wagoner? Will he succeed with Congress this week? That will largely depend on how much he is willing to sing for his supper.
*Acknowledgment to Ncaps learners and faculty