A Vow of Unhelpfulness

VikingBlodThe other day, I was discussing the concept of synchronicity with my co-workers. As first described by Carl Jung, a synchronicity is a coincidence that has no causal relationship but nevertheless seems to have meaning. Doesn’t really matter how you want to explain it: God, dharma, fairies, or whatever.

And, honestly, for this little post o’ mine, it doesn’t even matter if you believe in synchronicities at all. Let’s just talk.

The reason I was having this discussion is that I’ve been experiencing a lot of (alleged) synchronicities lately. I had a particularly surprising one yesterday, after the co-worker discussion and a coffee shop follow-up with fellow writer and misanthrope John Austin.


A few weeks ago I posted a photo to social media of a bottle of Viking Blod honeywine, i.e. mead, I had bought to lend atmospher for the season finale of Vikings. I’m not a one-brand drinker—I like to try different stuff—and this was literally the only bottle of Viking Blod I’ve ever bought. Mead-wise, I prefer the cheesy Chaucer mulled mead that you find at World Market; it’s tasty, but it’s seasonal.

And, the Viking Blod pic was the only photo of booze I’ve posted in a long, long time.

So, after finishing up a very horrifying conversation with John Austin (it would have been horrifying to any of today’s “safe space” marshmallow minds) I headed to the grocery store to buy some shredded cheese, taco meat, and something interesting and new to drink for the latest episode of Game of Thrones. To quote Tyrion Lannister: “That’s what I do: I drink and know things.”

So, during the check-out there was an electronic glitch (not my fault) that forced me to go to the customer service counter. It just so happened that, as I stepped up, the guy there was taking a call from a customer asking whether they had a certain product. The product?

“Viking Blood,” the store employee said, staring into his terminal. “Yeah, I don’t see it.”

My detective instincts kicked in. The person calling in hadn’t spelled the name and the guy receiving the call didn’t know how it was spelled.

“Viking Blod,” I said, “spelled with one O.”

The guy tapped it into his terminal and nodded. “Yeah, thanks.”

“You don’t have any in stock,” I said. “I was just back there.”

He looked at the terminal and confirmed, then said to the person calling in: “We don’t have it.”

I went on: “Since it’s in your system, it might be at another location. Or, I could tell them where to find it if you don’t mind me sending them to another company’s store.”

Anyway, you see how that went down.


There must be something about the way I look that drives strangers to ask me for information. Which usually works out, because I usually have the info they want. The first time I visited Boston, I wasn’t off the train for five minutes before another tourist was asking me for directions to the theater district as if I were a local. I had absorbed the map of the city, so I told him what where he needed to go.

And this is where the statistical problem with synchronicity comes in. If you’re the guy who drinks Heineken or Bud Lite or [yellow tail] every time, there is a much smaller chance you’re going to experience a weird coincidence. But if you’re the guy who tries new stuff all the time, who voraciously reads the primary sources for every scientific breakthrough that goes viral, who obsessively reads and learns and gathers new data, it’s far more likely that something will synch up at some point.

The point is that you don’t have to invoke God or dharma or fairies to explain some synchronicities, but they still have meaning. They arise when there is an abundance of synch points. For example, points of data.

Sure, you could argue that the coincidence between the only photographed bottle and the fortuitously overheard phone call doesn’t submit to statistical explanations, particularly since I only overheard it due to a glitch. But, it doesn’t change the basic dynamic. The caller and the employee benefited from the coincidence. I didn’t (I had my entire transaction delayed) but they did.

But, it doesn’t matter whether the ultimate source of these opportunities is supernatural or simply a matter of increased opportunities for benefit. It only matters that people take full advantage of them.


Of course, all of that doesn’t do the providers of the opportunities much good if there’s no fair exchange. One bad tendencies among human beings it to maximize take while minimizing give. People, driven by perfectly reasonable survival instincts, will sometimes gather up all the benefits they can then bail when it’s time to give back.

Unfortunately, this one-way exchange tends to drain the resources of the those on the give side. So, they have to train themselves to keep an eye on ROI, or Return-On-Investment. When you have a lot to give, you have to tendency to give a lot without thinking. Then, you’re left with nada.

Unless you enjoy being a martyr, this is an untenable position. So, I’ve decided to train myself to pay closer attention to truly cooperative relationships. I’ve taken a vow of unhelpfulness, no giving without a guarantee of return. Sort of a John Galt Lite strategy. I would suggest it to other givers as an exercise in self-improvement.

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