April 26, 2018

The Danger Of Helping

At the heart of volunteering is the rightful belief that helping others is a good thing. But sometimes, helping others makes their lives worse even while the helper is basking in the warmth of a job seemingly well done. Unfortunately, helping that does not acknowledge and use the gifts of the person being helped may leave the person and the community weaker.

So when does helping help? When does the good work of a volunteer enable another person or an entire community to become stronger?

Helping can be a hand reached down from the strong to the weak. Helping can leave the one helped more dependent and less hopeful. Helping can result in a person grateful for someone else’s gifts but unsure of their own.

Or helping can be the encounter of two human beings, both in need of the other in some important way. The grandmother in public housing has the wisdom of survival and often the depth of spirituality that can only be learned from suffering. The volunteer brings new ideas, resources and often connections that are important. At the end of their day, if they have both used their gifts, both the volunteer and the grandmother are changed.

One of the founders of community organizing, Sol Alinsky, had an iron rule, “Never do for another what they can do for themselves….” He knew the powerful truth that people want to take care of themselves rather than being dependent or “beholding” to others and that each step they take on their own makes them stronger and increases their ability to take future steps.

When two people appreciate each other’s gifts and help each other, they both walk away better people.