Lent words - Day 6 ~ Help

Help is such a small word for such a huge array of uses and contexts...

is Help ever free? What is the cost of help?

I attend a lot of business meetings and networking events... and the first three words more often than not which come from people's mouths when they are about to share what they do are "I help people" followed quickly with... "by doing something or other". Roughly translated this means... I provide these services for people who need them in return for payment.

So what is help? It is a confusing word at the best of times. We have one example above, but in a conversation it could be simply... can you help me carry these bags up the stairs? ... a genuine act of kindness to support a dear relative, friend, neighbour, or even a stranger who is clearly in need of help. On the other hand 'Help' is used when it comes with a catalogue of conditions or caveats... such help can be found in government provision of services... people have to jump through hoops to get any kind of help at all. Actually by the time you get this kind of help very often you've well and truly earned it!

So in this analysis for me the definition of Help means: Something that I am doing for another with no expectation of anything in return.

An example... someone asks me if I can help them with their house move. I can choose to say yes or no. But if I offer my services I do so glad in the knowledge that I can help them. Similarly someone asking if I can help clean up a park... or dig a piece of ground. If I am able and feel good about making this contribution... then I do so freely and with no ongoing obligation. Glad and rewarded by my ability to help someone, to be of service, and the act of doing this to the best of my ability.

So how would we label for example someone who provides support to those who are struggling to cope with life? I know a number of people who 'help' people to work out how to use their minds and thoughts to create different outcomes, as a result change their lives around. Are they not helping people too?

Absolutely they are helping people. But there are two parts to this... the knowledge that the services exist... and then the delivery of the service... So the helping part could be construed as the actual signposting, the awareness that there is something out there that can change things for them, and the connection to the people who can offer these services. Maybe this is the distinction that needs to be made between help and actually working with people.

Help should not be confused with 'doing the thing that needs to be done' for someone else. The Helper is there to provide signposting, access resources, guide as needed and to provide that support during the process. Clearly when digging a patch of earth it is a team effort... we're putting in effort along with the person who asked.

When Help becomes abuse?


Help like anything else... a word often signifying kindness, generosity and good things has another darker side when it is delivered in excess. Help in my mind is a temporary service to provide someone with a hand when they are in need. On going Help is either a service where we engage someone to do something... or it can quickly transition into abuse... there is a lot of abuse in our world today. 

1. Too much free help in a business context

This has been known to cause bad feelings of being 'used' and 'abused' by people. People who want to suck us dry of our hard earned knowledge and experience for no payment. We all have to live and earn money in these transitional times, we can't just be a free resource. How do we deal with this?

We need to be clear I think on our message. If we are very clear about what we love doing, what we are passionate about and the changes that people can expect working with us, then people have a choice. As part of our message we offer people everything they need to know to make a decision as to whether what we do is what they want. A brief introductory conversation to ensure that it is a mutually beneficial relationship for both parties and then off we go.

2. Help which is given on an ongoing basis (organisations)

This can be very insidious and can be found in institutions such as governments, religions, medical profession and charities. It is the very act of identifying those that need help (vulnerable) ... offering them the support and encouragement they need (so far so good) .. but then... doing very little if anything to solve the issue. Breeding continuance and justification for the organisation's existence. Look at all these people we are helping...

The symptom is being treated, not the underlying cause. This then builds dependency, allegiance, a tribe, division and helplessness. Rather than helping people to move beyond where they, they are contained where they are. There is no reason for the organisation to exist if those seeking help are 'helped' out of their situation. Classic examples are weight watchers and the pharma industries, but it is rife in Government and Religion too. They help to a point... but they become a crutch for far too many... who then depend (like a drug) on the service being provided and thereby give their power to it.

3. Help that is given on an ongoing basis (family context)

Help given freely in a family context is probably the most difficult area. Everyone is so emotionally involved that abuse becomes both second nature and buried under layers of guilt, social anxiety and passive aggressive behaviour. It's no one's fault... we don't even know very often we are doing it. Very often we would not tolerate this in other parts of our lives but when it comes to family... suddenly all the rules change.

People pleasers... we all know them... those that help everyone... but forget themselves. Those that will go to extraordinary lengths to do things for others... and yet in the process kill themselves. No where is this more prevalent than in the family unit.

Inadvertently what happens though is that 'the line' of what is acceptable keeps being redrawn by the abusers, continually demanding more and more... golden goose syndrome... Not only is the abused in a no-win situation, never being good enough (either in their own minds or the abusers) but also the abusers are dis-empowered by their own over reliance on a resource that does everything... what if that resource stops suddenly?

Both the abused and the abuser are locked into a relationship that is harmful to both. Perhaps why the sentence "You can choose your friends but you can't choose your family" appears to be so true for many.

4. Help in a volunteering and Community Context

In my travels I think that most people I meet are good people. People that would like to make a contribution to society and 'help out'. The difficulty that we have is that through bureacracy, red tape, regulation and 'jobs worth' we've made it very difficult for people to easily make a contribution.

Help or volunteering has been hijacked and commercialised, turned into a business sector in itself. What was local people getting together to provide a valued contribution in their community is now a huge charity machine. The good news though is that this doesn't have to be the case. We have been conditioned to believe that to contribute we have to go through 'the channels'. We don't. [here's a useful site]

If you want to do something good in your community... you need to believe in what you want to do... share it with others... form a team, a plan, and just do it... money? ... think of ways to achieve your aims without resorting to money... you'll be pleased you did! [...another blog on not asking for money here]


Final words...


When does providing unrestrained help, support, nurturing... turn into dis-empowerment... and start to build dependency? ... when does help turn into learned helplessness that leads on to kill creativity... kill imagination... kill innovation... kill motivation... ?

We all need help from time to time... recognising that we have challenges in our lives and understanding what needs our attention is vital. Being signposted is the next step... but being aware at all times that the help is there to enable us to regroup... refocus and regain the balance leading to our own resilience surely is the goal.

This is what is probably missing in the world today. Competition and scarcity thinking creates the illusion that we need to be somehow indispensable, to keep people dependent on us and our services... without us everything will collapse... it won't... it would be different that's for sure...

Be a crutch, be dependent... or be happy? ... the choice is yours... 

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