Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How Much Help is Enough?

I was recently contacted by someone struggling to get a project off the ground and while I am often happy to entertain people’s stories to see how they might be helped, this person’s story made me angry.

She lamented that no one would help her and she played the violin of victimhood.

What made me angry was that myself and others had interceded on her behalf many times and each time someone had reached out to help her, she decided that she would do it her own way (even if the people offering advice had demonstrated repeated success in the same area).  After acknowledging her way didn’t work, she would return for guidance, receive the same help, shrug it off again and repeat the cycle.

Now here she stood indicating that no one would help her.

It was her closing comment that caused me to lose patience with her and to share with her, my observations of her project and its potential for success.

In a moment of weakness, she revealed that she wanted the glory while others did the work.  In some strange way, she assumed that this is how successful people “made it”.

Ah, if Life could present such a lottery, that success is not made up of hard work, perseverance, collaboration, knowledge and luck but rather, by sitting and thinking positive thoughts, we will be overwhelmed with people who want to martyr themselves so that we can be successful and claim a life of luxury at their expense.

This person asking for help didn’t want to participate in the marathon of Life, with its challenges and victories.

She wanted to be carried for the duration of the marathon, with guaranteed victory in her sight while her minions suffered the challenges of completing the marathon on her behalf.

Helping people is an important element of Life

I’m not suggesting that we never help people.

In fact, as I have noted in previous musings and to quote Sir Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants” … these giants being friends, family, colleagues or random strangers who lifted me up when I was down, who carried me a short distance, set me down and then allowed me to get on my feet and continue learning and living (sometimes with a friendly wave and sometimes with a gentle or not-so-gentle prodding that it was time for me to run again).

I would be nothing had it not been for these people who gave unselfishly of themselves and sometimes, at personal sacrifice.

And truthfully, there are some people, especially the physically or mentally disadvantaged who will always be in need of others to help them.

However, in recognition of the help I have received from so many in my Life and in an effort to help others as a means of expressing gratitude, I have discovered that not only have I picked them up but I have been carrying them for many years.  In answering a cry for help, I have discovered that what they really wanted was someone to live their Life or their dreams for them.

Empathic people carry others like this routinely and more often than they would appreciate, find themselves carrying the burden of others as well as their own burden for greater distances than intended.

Kindness can be fatal

You can carry people across a torrential river and in fact, there are many times we have been carried across such an obstacle by others and so we should recognize the importance of doing the same for those in need.

However, to cross an ocean, eventually everyone must swim together.  If we don’t, we will discover that carrying the other person causes us to become exhausted and we all drown.  In other situations, we may carry someone across the ocean and as we get within sight of the distant shore, the person we have carried pushes off from us and swims to safety, having not expended their energy on the journey, while we drown in exhaustion and disappointment.

When we help others overcome challenges and live their dreams, we should help them in ways that will get them back on their feet.  We should be patient (and persistent) with them as they adjust to the speed of the marathon of Life and be aware that they may have a few stumbles along the way as they get back up to speed.

But we mustn’t offer to carry them or step in unasked to carry them.

Marathons can only be won when the required muscles have been developed.  When people stumble, we stop and help them back on their feet and we both move on towards the finish line.  But when we carry them, their “muscles” atrophy while ours become worn out and we discover that an act of kindness eventually prevents anyone from winning.

When we discover that we are carrying the lives and dreams of many, we also learn that our ability to live our own dreams and our ability to live up to the expectations of others becomes extremely difficult.

And then nobody wins – the people asking (or demanding) to be carried, the people who have real, valid expectations of us and ourselves.

The marathon of Life is complex, long and at times, exhausting.

It is easier to run this marathon when we help each other to run it instead of assuming (or expecting) that some people exist to carry others for the length of it.

In other words:

Always be prepared to share your heart but never sell your soul nor allow others to take your soul from you.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to lay some people down and focus on the people whom I have obligations towards.

How about you?

In service and servanthood,


PS I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the folks that call upon us to carry them and when we rush to their aid, they have vanished before aid can be given.  They are the ones who call out that disaster has befallen them and when we show up to help, they either cannot be found, they are too busy (even though they are the ones calling for help) or they assure us that all is well after creating a panic in everyone around them.

When the Good Samaritans resume their own journey, the cry goes out for help again and being a Good Samaritan and rising to the call for help, they respond with a sense of urgency, only to be told again (once the person has been found) that everything is fine. 

Such abuse causes Good Samaritans, in their desire to serve others, to run many Life marathons concurrently while, alas, their own marathon of Life and Purpose becomes second in priority.  The Good Samaritan’s Purpose is never fulfilled as they sacrifice themselves to serve those who routinely call upon them to serve their own misguided or selfish needs.

In such situations, the Good Samaritan may not actually have carried others but will have expended the same time and energy in responding to the false cries of others.

The result is the same and in the process, the personal identity and Life Purpose of the Good Samaritan will have been lost in an effort to meet the expectations of others. 

When this happens, perhaps the Good Samaritan’s name should not be on their own headstone when their end-of-days has arrived but instead, the headstone should contain the names of all the people they served. 

It is, after all, the lives of all those people that they lived and not their own.


  1. can you tell i'm catching up on items in my google reader? hmmm?

    this is awesome.

    I, too, love helping people and often they want "monetary" help - which one day i hope to be able to assist with. but, when i tell them that i can help with resources and start directing them where to "ask", many will bow out at that point. it drives me crazy.

    i know how hard it is to ask for help. I've had to ask many giants for financial help simply to keep my son in college. so i get it.

    may we never selfishly desire to be "mighty or huge" in others eyes. may we simply reach out and help where we can, without regards to recognition or accolades.

    and thank you...for the many times you've encouraged me and helped me to make things better in my world.