Is Helping Others Really Helping?

61255c3af31aa2cc7605c4f2eada5e7f“Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.”
~ Booker T. Washington

Several conversations have come up for me recently around helping others. I thought I’d share a perspective that I’m learning. Most of society tells us that we’ll feel better if we help others, that we’ll be fulfilled, that it’s the purpose of life…. I don’t know about you, but this hasn’t always proven true for me….

I’ve found that often I help others because I think I’m better than or I can do it better (pride) or that they’re not capable or it would be too hard for them (another face of pride) or its just easier to do it myself. Sometimes its because I want to be appreciated, feel guilty, obligated or, more often than I want to admit, its because it’s easier to help someone else than face what needs work in my own life.

When I had the Montessori school I’d teach parents not to “help” their children get dressed. Children who were mothered by the “Here Dear, let me do that for you” parent often had lower self confidence, sometimes were more apathetic or lazy in addition to being inept at dressing themselves and embarrassed by that, than children who were encouraged to do it themselves. Encouraged children generally had more initiative, tried new things and were more willing to learn from their mistakes. Children who had things done for them gave up faster and didn’t believe in their ability to do it themselves.

You’d think I’d have learned since I taught it. Yet over the years I found myself doing for others what they could do for themselves in the name of “helping” and “giving.” How noble I thought I was as I crippled those I cared about!

As I stopped doing for others I found other gifts. Very often as they began to do for themselves they did it differently – I learned new ways. They learned some of the things I had tried to teach or share with them that I didn’t know couldn’t be taught or shared except by doing. (You can believe that if there are checks there’s money until somebody stops bailing you out and the checks start bouncing and the lights actually go out). They grew, became more responsible and added new perspectives to how things are done in their lives.

Now I’m not saying we should stop helping others, but I do suggest we begin to look consciously at what we’re doing. Giving, for any of the reasons above, isn’t giving. It’s a trade: “I do for others for what it does for me.” True giving isn’t an obligation or a chore. It isn’t because it’s what we should do or we’re expected to do, or what someone will like. True giving just happens.

The best gift we can “give” others is ourselves as a good example of living consciously a life we love. Giving starts with self.

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