When to Help And When Not To

We all want to help others. Well, most of us anyway. Altruism is often said to be a quality that has evolved in us in order to live together as a society. But when we want to help others, when are we truly being helpful and when are we making things worse?

For example, say you are going out on a social occasion with a friend. If before the occasion, your friend tries on an outfit which does not suit them, and they ask you what you think, what do you say? Most of us would diplomatically refrain from saying comments like “It makes you look too fat” or “It makes you look too thin” or “You look horrible in that”. Then again, if we want to help the friend, most of us might say something like “How about the grey top instead, I think it would be nicer with those trousers” or “Why don’t you try on the black dress there?”.

If a friend is physically or mentally challenged in some way, it is good to consider how they might feel if we said something that challenged them too much. For example, John may love running and wants his friend Greg to join him in a long run, but Greg has a damaged knee and has ben told by the physiotherapist to avoid running. It is not fair for John to keep saying to Greg that it is all mind over matter, and that Greg should run anyway. Greg is doing his best to look after his health and take responsibility for it. John can ask Greg if he is OK to cycle, and maybe they can go cycling together instead. Just because running makes John feel good does not mean he has to impose it on Greg.

The same happens sometimes with people who are starting to learn a therapy. Even a medical student can make the mistake of mis-diagnosing someone and making them appointments with a list of specialists, because the would-be doctor is too eager to help. This is totally wrong, because the medical student is not allowed to diagnose as yet, and with good reason. Just because a friend of theirs says something in passing about how they feel does not mean giving the friend a diagnosis and sending them to various specialists. They can instead ask if the friend wanted an opinion based on the limited knowledge the medical student has to date. Then if the friend says yes, then maybe the would-be doctor can stress that they are not as yet qualified and therefore this is just a friendly opinion, but maybe they can ask their doctor if they have a particular condition. If the friend says no, it is best to respect their wishes.

And of course, mothers and fathers are all too often eager to help their children in the way they know best. But it may not be best for the child. For example, I have met many a struggling entrepreneur who was limited by their parents’ repeated statements that being self-employed is the road to ruin and financial disaster. Words of advice, no matter how loving or well-meant, can be very damaging.

I can give many more examples, but I guess you get the picture. It is good to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and ask “How would I feel if I were this person and heard this advice?”. After all, if we really want to help, we should help the other person, not our own ego, conscience, or our own feelings. It is not always easy. We all err sometimes. When we do, we can forgive ourselves, apologize where appropriate, and learn from the experience. It is good to care anyway, and I am sure you are reading this because you care.

The Institution of Violence and Injustice of Abuse

We find it so easy to call others to action over what are really menial, inconsequential things. For instance, how many people take to Twitter to pour out their outcry over the cancellation of television programs on major cable networks? How many people will start an Internet petition to bring back a certain flavor or brand of soda? How many people out there frothed at the mouth and ‘literally could not even’ over the disbranding and discontinuation of Twinkies just a few years ago? Our passion as a people runs high, yes, but are we not focusing on entirely the wrong things?

Can we not find something that actually matters to be upset about, because, I assure you, there are almost no limits, sadly, to the awful things that actually matter, yet are widely ignored. Yes, we should be upset, but not about TV shows or cola.

How disconnected and divided as a world society do we need to be in order to focus on petty instances of our own differences and mundane, trivial matters like voting for a new flavor of potato chip? As disconnected and divided as it takes to ignore the facilitated violence against women, children, and animals everywhere one can look. This is not new information. We know that women and children are sold and trafficked. We know that children go hungry each night. We know that the elderly and mentally infirm are often abused and neglected. We know that animals are tortured for fun, literally, are beaten, are abandoned to the cold and elements. What does it say about us that we find time for frivolities such as those listed above (and more), but cannot seem to come together against abuse?

Partly, it says that we’ve lost some of our soul. We used to know what it was to stand up for the underdog and fight for those that could not fight for themselves, but part of that has fled away, anesthetized by the static and comforting sounds of our television screens and the voices of those who cleverly instruct us on how to think, feel, and act. Isn’t it time to empower others by empowering ourselves? Isn’t it about time that we refocus, reconnect, and once again become the people that give a damn? If we don’t, then who will? If we don’t, then what next, or, more likely who is next? When the world runs out of victims as it currently stands, who becomes the next victim? Is it you?

Hopefully, it will never come to that. Hopefully, we’ve now come far enough to reflect on what we have allowed ourselves to become and put our metaphorical foot down. Why should another young girl miss out on the happiness of youth just to be taken as a child bride far away from her home? Where is the outrage for that?

Some people excuse their apathy as defeatism, disguising their silence into learned passivity, because, according to them, it’s hopeless. According to some people, there’s nothing we can actually do to improve the station of those that suffer. If these international slavery rings exist, what can an individual do to stop them? If animals die every day at the hands of abusers and neglect, what can I do to ease their pain?

What individuals do, what they have always done, in times such as these, to respond to the call of action that each of us should inherently feel at the knowledge of suffering and injustice, is to collect. This is our time to come together, rather than split apart, or continue hiding behind our television screens and smart phones because it’s too hard to support causes that matter. We need to stop making excuses. The suffering of others is real, and, no matter which country the victim comes from, no matter what color their skin may be, no matter if they have hands or paws, their pain is significant. It matters.