To Help or Not to Help? The Paradox of Assistance
How Too Much Help Can Actually Hinder Progress
“Help someone, you earn a friend. Help someone too much, you make an enemy.”
― Erol Ozan
We often think of helping others as a selfless act, but in reality, it can be pretty selfish.
When we help someone, we usually do it because we want to feel good about ourselves. We want to feel like we are good people making a difference in the world.
And while there is nothing wrong with this, it can sometimes lead us to do more harm than good. We can end up causing dependency or taking away someone’s motivation to improve their lives.
So how can we strike the right balance?
The answer is not always easy, but it starts with understanding our motivations.
The Dangers of Helping Others
Though our intentions may be pure when we help others, sometimes our actions can have unintended consequences.
For example, let’s say you see a homeless person on the street and give them some money. At that moment, you may have made them feel valued and respected. You may have even made their day a little bit brighter.
But what if they use that money to buy drugs or alcohol? What if they spend it on something that does nothing to improve their situation? Or what if they become dependent on your generosity and stop trying to find a way out of homelessness?
While you may have had good intentions, your actions might not have yielded the desired result. This is why it’s essential to understand our motivations when we help others.
Are we doing it to make ourselves feel good? Are we doing it because we genuinely want to help the other person? Or are we doing it because we feel like we have to?
These are all valid reasons, but they can lead to different outcomes.
The Balance Between Helping and Hurting
It’s not always easy to find the right balance between helping and hurting. Sometimes our intentions are good, but our actions end up causing more harm than good.
The key is to stay mindful of our intentions and be willing to adjust our actions.
If our motivation is to make ourselves feel good, then we need to be careful not to use the other person as a means to an end. We need to make sure that our actions are helping the other person and not only making us feel good about ourselves.
If our motivation is to help the other person, we must ensure that our actions are helpful and not destructive.
And if our motivation is feeling like we have to help, then we need to be careful that we’re not putting the other person’s needs above our own. We also need to ensure we’re not sacrificing our well-being or theirs.
The Moral Dilemma of “Throwaway People”
The term “throwaway people” was first coined by the British sociologist Richard Wilkinson in his book “The Impact of Inequality: How to Make Sick Societies Healthier.”
Wilkinson used the term to refer to those left behind by society and living in poverty, with limited access to education, healthcare, and other basic needs.
While Wilkinson referred to people living in poverty, the term can also be applied to other groups of people marginalized or excluded by society. This includes refugees, immigrants, indigenous peoples, and others.
The moral dilemma of throwaway people is: do we help them or let them fend for themselves?
On the one hand, helping them could improve their lives and make the world better. But, allowing them could enable their dependencies and prevent them from finding solutions.
There are valid reasons for both helping and not helping throwaway people.
It depends on your values and worldview.
If you think every person has a right to live a dignified life, you may feel morally obligated to help them.
But if you believe that people should only be helped if they’re willing to help themselves, you may not feel the need to intervene.
The key is to be aware of your motivations and values. From there, you can decide whether or not to help based on what you believe is right for you.
The Paradox of Assistance
The Paradox of Assistance is a term coined by Kevin Kelly that refers to the paradoxical relationship between assistance and autonomy.
The paradox arises from the human tendency to want more independence as we achieve more help.
The more we help someone, the more they want to be independent; but the more independent they become, the less they need our help.
The paradox can be applied to any form of assistance, whether it’s financial, emotional, or physical.
The key is to find a balance between helping and hindering. We need to provide enough assistance to help them reach their goals, but not so much that it prevents them from becoming self-sufficient.
So how can we help others effectively without causing more harm than good?
Stay mindful of your motivations.
Be aware of the potential risks of your actions.
Be willing to adjust your actions. If we find that our efforts are causing more harm than good, we must be ready to change them.
“We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” —Ronald Reagan
When is it Okay not to Help?
There are times when it’s okay not to help others. Sometimes not helping can be the best thing you can do.
One reason to not help is if you can’t help. If you’re not in a position to make a difference, then it’s better not to get involved.
Another reason to not help is if your help is likely to do more harm than good. As we discussed before, it’s essential to be aware of the potential risks of our actions. If there’s a chance that your actions could cause more harm than good, then it’s better not to take any action at all.
And finally, there are times when the other person doesn’t want your help. If they think they can handle the situation, respecting their wishes is best and not intervening.
When it comes to helping others, we need to be careful that our actions don’t end up causing more harm than good.
We must stay mindful of our intentions, be aware of the potential risks of our efforts, and be willing to adjust our actions. Doing these things ensures that we’re helping others mindfully.
Do you have an experience where helping someone didn’t turn out as you expected? Share your story in the comments!
© Alejandro Betancourt, 2022. All Rights Reserved.
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