My dear Shosh and Jaialai:
There are few truly evil people in this world — Hitler, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahlmer, etc. For the most part, people try to do the right thing, but, too often, their egos and failings get in the way and they lost sight of the purpose of their engagement. For example, people often want to help, but the helpers often do so without bothering to ask the people they want to help (the helpees) what the helpees need or want. The helpers assume they know better — sometimes simply by virtue of the fact that the helpers are in a position to help whereas the helpees are in the position of requiring help. Thus, those helpers do whatever THEY think the helpees need, regardless of whether the “help” provided really meets the needs of the helpees.
Is this right? No, it isn’t. In addition to being ineffective at achieving the goal of helping those who need help, it also smacks of rudeness and arrogance. It smacks of ill-bred behavior. Worse yet, other helpers may see that the needy person already has “help” and apply their energies elsewhere, leaving the needy person’s needs unaddressed.
This happens more often than you think. People “help” others not because they care about the helpees as individuals, but because helping others is good for their resume, is required by their religion, makes them feel good about themselves, etc. In other words, they help others, but the focus of the efforts is really to benefit the helpers, not the helpees.
Be better, my sons. No matter what you are doing, always place your focus on your audience, your target population, or the person you are talking to or helping. What do they want or need? Ask. It’s so simple. Yet, so many fail to do this simple task of treating people as persons and asking what the person needs. (Now, that’s not to say, you’d give in if the poor sod said he needs a stiff drink!)
Years ago, I staffed the Low Income Task Force (LITF) for one of the county government for one of the richest counties in the U.S. Members of the LITF consisted of the directors for the various departments within the government. We were tasked with finding out what the poor people in our jurisdiction needed, and how we could help them meet those needs. Their needs were many. To help guide our analysis, we created a matrix of specific needs, existing programs designed to meet that need, and the level of success such program is having at ameliorating that need. The needs include, among other things, food, shelter, employment, education, healthcare, childcare, and transportation.
While we were discussing the needs, I shall never forget that the Director of Parks and Recreation opined that transportation is not a problem for the poor because “all poor people have cars.” As evidence to support his claim, he pointed to all the cars parked on the front yards and streets in the poor neighborhood he’d visited as part of his job.
Now, he’s not wrong that many poor people own cars. But, is he right that they don’t have a transportation problem? No! Many of those cars were parked in the front lawn precisely because they were jalopies! They don’t run they are broken, they are unreliable, etc. Yes, for $200-$500, you could buy a used car. But, how reliable is it? Will it get you to work on time everyday or will it leave you stranded more often than not? If we want to help the poor, should we leave them to that fate, or should we try to provide access to more reliable transportation to ensure that they could get to work on time everyday, so that they could hold a job, pay their bills, keep their homes, feed their children, etc.?
(My first car, for example, was purchased for $300 while I was in college. Eventually, it burst into flames — on the day I had my wisdom teeth removed, no less. Wonderful, right?!! You should have seen it: people around us ran over with their fire extinguisher to put out the flames, then the firemen showed up and doused my entire care with water. Then, they tried to ask your uncle (who drove me to and from the dentist) and I what happened: he pointed to me as the car owner, and I tried to answer with a mouthful of bloody gauze from the removed wisdom teeth. Good times, right? My second car — which was given to me by a friend and for which I paid $200 to avoid a social debt — fared no better. One of your other uncles was driving the car over a mountain pass when it gasped its last breath, exhaled a plume of white smoke, and died. He was stranded on some mountain top in the middle of nowhere. Great, right?!!)
Now regarding the LIFT, thankfully, one of the other directors disabused this director of his misconceptions. We then went on to discuss options such as free tokens for public transportation, providing more low-income housing that have easy access to public transportation, etc.
This is an example of the helper making ignorant assumptions about the needs of the helpees without bothering to take the time to verify for himself the accuracy of his assumptions. Do better.
Help others when you can, my sons. Life is more beautiful when shared.
But, if you cannot help, don’t make it worse for them by blindly and arrogantly imposing your will on them. You will do more harm in the process. As mentioned above, even if the helpees ignored your ineffective “help”, other helpers may see that this target population already is getting help from someone, and they may move on to other target populations, thereby denying this group of the help they truly needed. Be better.
All my love, always,