HumankindNESS: To Help or Not to Help

By: Jennifer Richardson
I am a firm believer in being a helper and a force for good in the world. But while I aspire to leave the world a better place, I also want to promote balance and habits that encourage real strength and growth.

In our well-intentioned quest to help, provide, and protect we are becoming a culture that tries to meet every need a person has. That sounds so good, so comforting, so right. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was given everything they needed every day of their lives?

Probably not as great as we might think.

There is a special kind of drive buried in the human spirit that enables us to rise the occasion, to seek till we find, to run to the finish, to pursue what we need to survive. When we are asked to meet life’s unrelenting demands and we have no instant answers, this drive asks us to reach way down into reserves we didn’t know we had.

When we encounter very little hardship and few needs that we alone must face, our natural motivation to overcome is gradually watered down. We can become people whose greatest efforts go into finding ways for someone else to manage our challenges.

This process begins at an early age. When a baby feels thirst, we gladly give them a drink. But when they grow older and are reasonably able to manage the task, we ask them to fill their own cup. We would probably meet some peculiar glances if we followed our college students around and filled every glass they drank from. And if we did, it would not take long before we would have a self-absorbed, entitled person who expected someone to magically appear to quench their thirst the moment they felt it.

On a larger scale we have to understand that resilience is not inherited, it has to be built, again, in every generation.

Our children struggled with some things in their younger years, as most do. We sympathized with them, and offered them strategies to deal with their challenges, and spent lots of time being a soft place for them to land when they came home each day. Sometimes we stepped in when they were actually in some kind of jeopardy or needed protection.

But in most cases we did not remove their obstacles because we knew that we would not be able to run interference in their lives forever. The customary childhood maladies of selfish kids, tough classes, and being talked about, were things that they needed to find their own way through.

Years later I was speaking with an administrator of the elementary school where one of our daughters attended. He asked me about her experience of those years, and I shared how difficult it was in a few ways.

He asked me why we did not ask for help, and I simply said it was not someone else’s problem to solve. She needed to find a way to meet her challenges so she could carry that strength with her as she faced her own future.

We wanted her to fill her own cup, because one day we would not be there to fill it for her.

Surprisingly, help can hurt. We should not remove every stumbling block, jump every hurdle, cleanup every mess, and provide for every need. I believe in help, and we need to help where it is best. And we need to stand back when it would be better for someone to fall and learn to get back up again. And we need the wisdom to know the difference.

Emotion says, it will make them happy to build it for them. Wisdom says, it will make them strong to build their own. Built resilience is the bedrock that will serve as the foundation they will need when things around them begin to shake.

To help or not to help, that is the life-changing question. Asking someone to invest in their own life is sometimes the kindest help you can offer.

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