OK. I don’t really mean that. More like – sometimes helping is not really helpful.
I started thinking about this when I was driving the other day. I came upon the aftermath of an accident. One car looked pretty smashed up but it did look like all the people involved were OK. A man who did not seem to be part of the accident, stopped his van – blocking part of the road and started directing traffic. This man obviously wanted to be helpful. I just am not sure it is helpful to stand in the middle of a dangerous intersection, with a blind spot, and direct speeding cars? (Granted I was a little irritated because he was trying to get me to go somewhere that I wasn’t inclined to go.) It seemed to me that in his effort to help he was blocking the road, putting himself in danger and putting other drivers in danger. Maybe there were other ways for him to help such as making sure 911 was called, or checking on the people in the cars or at the very least getting his van OFF the roadway.
People like to help. Generally, if someone sees another person in pain they want to alleviate the pain. By doing so they help the person and even ease their own empathic pain they feel for the person. It is just that sometimes difficulty serves a purposes. Sometimes “helping” is not helpful. I run into this almost daily with the dialysis patients I work with. A staff member feels bad for a patient, wants the patient and themselves to feel better and comes to me and asks me to basically fix a situation. Often I find fixing the issue isn’t helpful. Often it is something the patient is able to do for themselves and by doing it for them I am sending the message that they are dependent, that they don’t have control of their life, that they can’t function. It is probably more helpful to give them information and tools and support them while they get through it themselves.
People do it for family members and their children all the time. Fix a problem, help someone avoid a consequence, help someone avoid difficulty. We want people we care about to be happy but by arranging outcomes we may be hindering that which the person most needs to be successful. I have been immensely grateful for family and friends who have helped me in times of trouble but there are definitely times where being helped may have actually delayed me from getting where I needed to be.
Before you jump in and help someone and fix their problem – stop and consider. Ask yourself “is this really going to help.” Will this make their problem more difficult in the future? Is there another way to help that doesn’t take power away from them? Am I helping for me or for them?
Sometimes we hurt and have to struggle to get where we need to be. Help may not be fixing, maybe help is just being there and being supportive – letting someone not be alone. I don’t want anyone to stop helping – just consider first.
Read the story of the butterfly below for an illustration of when helping may not be helpful.