Sage advice from an elderly gentleman perched atop a lonely mountain.
Hello friends! Today our question comes from Ashley Chambray of Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
“Dear Banaba,” Ashley writes. “Why do people get mad at me when I’m only trying to help?”
To my new friend Ashley, I say simply, “Help is perspective, and it is subjective.”
But, I suppose that is me not being very helpful at all.
Help has been around for a long time. I have heard it said that the desire to help is part of the human condition. It’s instinctual. But as we have come to know, through conditioning, we can often override our instincts so that we act in a way that is driven more by our personal motivations and less by how we are wired.
If you feel people are reacting negatively to your help, we must explore what help you are providing, the environment in which you are providing it, and what is motivating you to act.
First, do they ask for help? That is the best indicator of whether help is needed at all.
I share with you two brief stories.
To start, there is the well-known tale of a man who came across a butterfly struggling to emerge from a cocoon. Because he could not tolerate the notion of the creature’s struggle, felt that the creature was in trouble and would be doomed without action, he decided to “help” by stepping in and releasing the creature. In this case, the creature was working through what it needed to as dictated by nature. The struggle itself is what the butterfly needed to overcome to ensure it was strong enough to survive. The butterfly was not ready to be free in that moment and the help – the man’s actions – only ensured the fate the man feared most.
In the second tale, a young woman recently moved out to be on her own, but she came back to her mother’s house regularly to bake cookies. The mother, thinking she was helping, gave the daughter a new cookie tray to bake with believing it would help make her life easier because then she would not have to make the journey back home just to bake the cookies. The daughter took the tray graciously, but it made her cry. She did not see the tray as a gift of help as much as it was a message from her mother that she did not want her to come over to bake anymore.
And, if you will indulge me, I believe another short story is in order. This time we find a teacher who is constantly telling a little boy what to do. There is nothing wrong with the boy other than he often lags behind the other children when getting things done. The teacher feels that she needs to remind him to do things so very often so as to “help” him stay on task, to “help” him keep up with the other children and to “help” keep him from getting into trouble. In his mind, the boy sees himself very much the same as all the other children, yet he feels frustrated that he is constantly singled out to do the very things he had either already done, or was on his way to doing.
So, now we wonder – who was helping who? Who really needed help? Would everything have worked out as it should without the added help?
The case of the teacher shows us that she may have pushed the boy under the guise of “help” to satisfy her own needs in the moment. The boy was capable. And aside from speed, the boy was successful. He likely did not need help. Yet, her job is to manage the class and the boy could be a hindrance – if even a small one – to her finding her own success in the way she perceived things.
If the mother was to know the real outcome of her help, that her daughter was profoundly upset by the gesture, we could guess that she would most assuredly clarify her intentions with her daughter, so the intent of her effort was effectively understood. But in the moment, the daughter was capable, she was successful, and probably did not need the help she received.
Finally, the man would have no way to communicate with the creature he encountered. He saw a situation unfolding before him and chose to act in a way that reflected the limits of his current understanding. He projected a potential danger onto the very small creature and felt compelled to do something. Was the creature in danger? Probably not. Would the creature have otherwise have been successful? Probably, short of the interference with another predator in his circle of life. Did the creature need help?
Because Ashely did not provide the specifics of what makes people mad at her when she tries to help them, we can only guess that she might be offering “help” where it is not needed or it is the kind of “help” she offers regularly, and some may say unnecessarily, to satisfy a need of her own.
Humans are generally good. They generally want to help others. But we could all benefit from understanding where help is needed most, defining what help will actually help and knowing that help is not often providing a resolution, but enough of a bridge to helping another achieve success. Most importantly, we must explore whether we are we helping those who really need it, or are we helping ourselves.
Peace to you – Banaba
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