Do what you can with love
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Key ingredients of helping

May 9, 2020

Most of us, during these unprecedented times, are struck by a surge of compassion towards humanity. We are seeing average people step up to help one another in extraordinary ways.

We have all become helpers. And it is a beautiful thing.

Beyond the doctors and nurses providing direct care to the sick (a different set of Helpers entirely), there are those of us who are overcome with a deep desire to do something to assist our fellow man in profound new ways, or with renewed enthusiasm.

Helping is crucial for the survival of our species.

The helpers have a beautiful, crucial purpose, and have been the driving force behind nearly every advancement in the history of humanity. Helpers often have an overwhelming sense of mission. This mission is invaluable in moving us forward.

It can be frustrating for a helper who simply wants to use the tools he or she has to make the world a better place, when others don’t respond the way they thought they would or should. It is in such instances that helping can easily slip into fixing.

I am a lifelong fixer…

…a problem solver, a get-‘er-done, spit/spot, let’s clean up this mess and move on kind of girl. It is only in the last dozen or so years that I have slowly learned how to distinguish between helping and fixing.

Fixing can be harmful to both the fixer and the broken (if the person is, in fact, even broken at all).

Fixing is harmful because it is futile, which breeds hopelessness. It is harmful because it is insulting. It is harmful because it is a waste of precious time that could have been spent helping.

A helper must learn how to balance their desire to help, which is very genuine, with the desire to fix.

Here are the key ingredients of helping:

  • Humility
  • Grace
  • Boundaries
  • Accountability

Humility:

Helpers have valuable knowledge to share, and a very real desire to share it, to improve other’s lives. They’ve overcome something painful, they’ve been broken by life and successfully put themselves back together again.

They are proud of their success. And they should be!

But if we are not careful, vanity can turn even the most well-intentioned helpers into fixers. Is this about your desire to help others, or is this about your desire to validate the path you’ve chosen?

Fixers have a born again sense of “This works for me and so it would work for you if you’d just do as I have done.”

Some fixers are pushing religion or atheism, some are pushing yoga, or dietary changes, or naturopathic medicine, or green tea, or cosmetics, or camping, or martial arts, or painting, or music, or home decorating, or war, or peace, or political affiliation.

It is one thing if someone is interested in learning new ways to change their circumstances. It is entirely another when they are perfectly comfortable where they are at. Or perhaps, their problem is so unlike your own that your solution isn’t a good fit.

Much of what we view as brokenness in the world is simply a difference in perspective. You can’t fix what isn’t broken.

Grace:

Helping is selfless. Fixing is selfish. Fixing is based on what you believe is best for someone else. Helping is based on what the other person actually needs.

Maybe the other person doesn’t feel broken. Maybe she is wrong, and maybe she is right, but either way, you can’t fix someone who doesn’t believe she has a problem and refuses to invest in fixing herself.

And ultimately, it isn’t our job to determine whether another person is broken. It is his or her job. Let go of the need to define other people’s brokenness. If there is a true need, fill it if you can, recognizing that others’ journeys are different from your own. Let them be.

Boundaries:

If grace involves allowing other people to own their journey, then boundaries involves allowing yourself to own yours. One person can’t save everyone. And no one person was meant for that. We are each designed differently so that we can meet the diverse needs faced by collective humanity.

As I was helping a recent client create content for her helping website, I suggested ways she could make it more relatable to a wider audience. Her response was so simple and perspective changing for me.

She said, “The people who will benefit from my service will find me. I know I’m not for everyone, and that’s okay. I’ll help who I can, and that will be enough.”

Accountability:

We are all defined by our experiences. It is human nature to assume that what works for ourselves would work for everyone else.

It takes discipline to be humble, to give grace, to set boundaries. We must allow for the possibility that we do not have all the answers, that it isn’t our job to provide all things for everyone in need. We must check in with ourselves sometimes, as we are offering help.

What are my motives here? What is my goal? Am I interested in helping this person become the best version of him or herself, or the version I’d like to see them become? Is this the best way that I can offer help?

Maybe she just needs me to listen and be present in her pain.

Maybe he simply needs food for today, or a smile, or a few dollars, or a pair of shoes.

Or maybe I need to move on.

People are smart. They know when they are being “fixed.”

It is our natural inclination to fight against being fixed. We are programmed to hold on to who we are. This is a survival skill.

Even among the most abused, the most manipulated, the most shattered in spirit, there is still an innate desire to preserve those parts of our true self that have been buried beneath the rubble.

A fixer says, “I know what will work for you if you’d just let me show you how.”

And it does work, for so many. There is a place for the fixers. God, the universe – whatever you prefer to call it – makes use of us at whatever level we make ourselves available.

But it is the helpers who touch the most lives.

A helper will get busy removing the debris, searching for the true individual beneath, regardless of how similar they are to him or her. He or she will celebrate when that individual emerges whole, even if he heads off in an entirely different direction.

We are a diverse humanity. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to individual brokenness. There is no silver bullet. There is only love, and the unending, unbreakable spirit of a people determined to leave the world better than they found it.

And if I could fix everyone, it would be with this one lesson…

Do what you can with love. Help who you can with love. And let the rest be who they are, with love.

Then again, not everyone needs fixing.

Copyright © 2020 Sara Beth Wald

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