It’s wonderful to live in a world where so many people help others so often. Many people spend a lot of time providing help and support to others.
In many countries, people train to become teachers, nurses, psychologists, coaches, surgeons, hairdressers, volunteer community health workers, dentists, travel agents and other jobs that involve helping people.
Given the amount of time we spend helping people, you might expect us to be pretty expert at it by now. Unfortunately, aid efforts do not always have the desired effect. Sometimes apparent help can cause more harm than good.
Inappropriate health care, for example, wastes billions of dollars every year administering unnecessary treatments and procedures and, paradoxically, denying interventions that might be helpful (Carey, 2017). Perhaps even more serious than money ill-spent is the harm done to individuals and families who are needlessly prevented from enjoying good health.
So what’s the secret? Why are some aids so wonderfully successful while others are troubling, painful and above all unhelpful? It turns out that the impact of aid is determined by who is helped, not the one who helps.
Help occurs when a person uses something outside of them to achieve their goals, pursue their dreams, or reach their goals better than they could before. If something interrupts or hinders the pursuit of their goal, it will be of no use.
So the difference between helping and interfering has to do with the person’s goals receive ugly. If something promotes the achievement of goals, it will be helpful. Those things that block the achievement of goals will be useless.
This means that the caregiver’s intentions are not the crucial factor in determining the success or failure of aid efforts. It doesn’t matter how sincerely a helper wants to help or how diligently they persist in their helping strategies. If what they do is not experienced as useful by the person being helped, it doesn’t help.
Source: Stock Photo, Image ID: 1520700, @123RF
Hairdressers who routinely ignore their clients’ wishes and cut and style people’s hair according to what they think is best probably won’t be in business for very long. The best hairdressers are attentive to the wishes of their clients. They can advise, suggest and even inspire, but they leave the final decision to the customer.
Many companies offer refunds if customers are not completely satisfied. These are companies that truly understand the importance of the preferences of the people they serve.
Even if you’ve spent a lot of time, effort, and maybe money helping someone else, if they say your offers aren’t helping them, then they’re right and you’re wrong. When people reject our suggestions and advice, it’s easy to blame them for not being grateful enough or smart enough to understand the opportunity before them. The bottom line, though, is that if what they’re given doesn’t change their world the way they want it to, it doesn’t help them.
It may seem silly to put it into words, but helping is only helping if someone is being helped.
Sometimes people may spend more time thwarting or avoiding relief efforts than enjoying an easier, faster path to getting the things that are important to them. Any advice, guidance, or resource that a person cannot use to move them in the direction they want to go will seem like annoying and frustrating interference.
So how can you be a better assistant? Make sure what you are doing is what help wants you to do. Get the best idea possible before you even start on what the other person wants, then check along the way to make sure your helping efforts stay on track. Be sensitive to any indication from the person you are helping that your current efforts might be met with resistance.
Something like a frown, a missed date, a long pause, or hesitation could be a clue that what’s happening to them is more emotional than soothing. Even after you’ve finished, it’s often very helpful to reconnect with the person you helped.
To ensure that our aid efforts are truly useful, we must be guided by the goals of the people we seek to help. Our helping goal should be to help and support others in their efforts to get what they want.