Help That Harms

Giving a Drunk a DrinkSometimes we give help that harms the other person. We think we’re helping, but what we’re doing is more like giving a drunk a drink. We have discovered a cause about which we are passionate, and we want to make a difference, but if we’re not careful, our help can do more harm than good.

Here are 4 indicators that might tell us our generosity is harming more than helping:

1. The apparent problem comes back when we leave

It’s a sure sign that if after we leave, the situation goes right back to the way it was before, we have not instilled self sufficiency. The recipients of our generosity continue to need our presence for their problem to be solved. It could be that we’ve just left too soon, or it could indicate that we have created dependence.

The harm we may be causing is that people stop feeling confident or competent that they can go forward on their own. They don’t see themselves as whole and sufficient. Instead they see themselves only as lacking and dependent.

When we provide assistance, the goal should always be for the person to eventually no longer need our assistance.

2. 100% of the solution comes from us

When 100% of the solution comes from us, we, again, are sending a subtle message telling people that they aren’t sufficient – that they need our help, and they aren’t even qualified to help craft a solution. If we are providing 100% of the solution, it may indicate that the recipients are too passive and disengaged from the problem solving process.

The harm we may be causing is that from our subtle messages, people feel they are somehow “less than,” and aren’t capable. They may even begin to believe our subtle messages even if we don’t intend give them.

When we provide assistance, it is best to partner with people and let them participate or even lead in discovering and crafting their own solution. This sends the message that we are equals working together to overcome obstacles.

3. People are “working the system” to get more of our assistance

When we see that people are “working the system,” to get more of our assistance, this may indicate that people have a mindset that this is a long-term or permanent situation for them. When people aren’t thinking that this is just a short term stop gap until they get out on their own, they are dependent on our assistance.

Dependence is just another form of slavery. Even if it is voluntary, it’s still not good. The harm we may be causing is that people become enslaved to our assistance. We end up putting ourselves in power over them as they believe they are completely dependent on us for their survival. People end up being “addicted” to our assistance.

When we provide assistance, it is best to provide help suitable to their specific situation, then there is no system to work. Involving individual coaches or mentors can ensure that people are receiving the right kind of support.

4. People we didn’t intend to help show up needing our help

This may indicate that we’ve run into the law of unintended consequences. For example, when we provide free food to an impoverished foreign country, the local farmers may just need to get in the food line as well. We’ve completely demolished their economy around the food industry, so now the farmers can’t sell any of their crops. This can have even larger ripple effects throughout their economic system.

The harm we may be causing is to other folks who were doing just fine are now suddenly devastated by our aid.

When we provide assistance, we should be aware of the whole system we are affecting. Having awareness of the whole system sometimes helps us provide even better assistance. Rather than directly attacking the problem, we can affect a related area with possibly even greater results.

What about you? Have you ever been involved in some type of giving and felt there was something wrong about it?


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