The best way to help someone and add value to their life

“If you want to help others, you must always help yourself first. If you want to advise others, be willing to follow your own advice.”

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi

A young woman brought her boy from their small Indian village to travel to see the great Mahatma Gandhi. From far and wide, she heard of his open-mindedness, wisdom and generosity. She was in search of knowledge, looking for answers that would help her with a problem she hoped to solve for her son. She was looking for guidance to help solve her son’s addiction.

An addiction to chocolate.

So she was willing to make the quest. Miles and miles, under the searing Indian sun, the woman and her son journeyed to see the wise sage. Days later, she arrived. She mustered up the courage to walk to the great Gandhi’s ashram. Her son stood there, shyly waiting, and the woman opened her mouth and the words flowed out from her lips:

“Wise leader, my son has an addiction to chocolate — and I don’t know what to do. We’ve tried everything and getting him to stop has been unsuccessful. Would you please tell him — you will know, wise one — please tell him to stop and that this is bad for his health?”

Gandhi sat there and listened patiently and with an open mind. He said that he would not give the woman advice about how to break her son’s chocolate addiction. He simply told her to return in two weeks.

The woman was stunned. Nothing? This wise man whose legend she had heard about for years — he offered nothing? And why two weeks? She was baffled, but decided to return to her village with her son. Over days and nights, they traveled back home. The addiction persisted. The woman did not know what to do.

Finally, after two weeks, the woman and child braved the sizzling, humid Indian sun and traveled back to Gandhi’s ashram. She hoped that Gandhi would direct her son to stop. Her wish was granted. Gandhi said:

“Boy, please, stop eating chocolate. It is bad for your health. Listen to your mother and stop at once.”

Hearing Gandhi dispense the directive, the boy dropped his head and with a sullen expression, he nodded. The mother was relieved and she thanked the old sage. They turned to leave and make the trek back to their village. But the woman couldn’t help shake her curiosity. Why did it take him two weeks to tell my son to stop eating chocolate? What did he have to think about?

So she turned back around, faced Gandhi and asked him, “Why did it take you two weeks, oh wise one?

Gandhi offered her a warm smile, looked up and said, “I needed to overcome my own addiction to chocolate.”

Our greatest value

This parable reminds us that the greatest help — the greatest value — that we can give to another human being is to lead by example. Our friends, co-workers and superiors aren’t looking for us to give them all the answers. They’re looking to us to lead. You? Me? We’re leaders when we back up our words with integrity. When we do what we say we’re going to do.

When we deliver on the promise of living the life we are destined to live.

If you want to help others, you must always help yourself first. If you want to advise others, be willing to follow your own advice. If you want to do great things in this world, don’t just talk about it. Take action.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” — Mahatma Gandhi

The great Gandhi refused to compromise his own values. In order for the boy to “do as Gandhi said,” Gandhi needed to first do what he was telling the boy to do. We all want to be influencers and thought leaders who help change the world in our own unique way. But what good are our words and ideas when they’re not backed by action?

We live in a culture where everyone is becoming an “expert” at telling others what to do, while simultaneously not listening and following their own advice.

Do you want to stand out from the crowd? Do you want to become the most helpful, valuable person in your circle of friends? Your industry? The leader that others look to for guidance? Live by your own example. Lead by example. And I assure you, others will follow.

Lead by example

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This article first appeared on Medium.