I’m fairly sure nobody makes it through life without needing help from others. By the same token, most of us follow some kind of philosophy or tradition which calls upon us to offer help to those around us who need it. One thing that we have finally started to understand, however, is that those who offer or accept help aren’t always giving and/or getting the help needed. What masquerades as help is sometimes manipulation, either on the part of the helper or the person in need.
We all know that, when we are really in need of something, our willingness to bend our own personal standards and preferences increases. I remember once after I lost my job and was extremely short on funds that I suddenly found myself willing to go on dates with a guy I honestly could barely stand being around just so he would buy me dinner. It happens to all of us.
Still, knowing that we can all be pushed pretty easily to that point, we have a tendency to use that knowledge to get what we want by putting our desires between someone else and something they need very much.
On the other hand, we’ve all had times when our compulsion to help others causes us to give beyond what we think is appropriate. Our relationships with others become leverage which allows others to tip our hand. I think this mostly happens in dating relationships or marriages, when our love for someone else makes it difficult to say no.
And yet, even though we’ve all been in a position of feeling coerced into giving more than is reasonable or healthy, we’re also prone to using our relationships with others to get more than we need from those who simply desire to help us.
How do we achieve a good balance between not using our ability to offer assistance as a way to manipulate others to do what we wish and not allowing a person in need to twist our generosity into enabling behaviors?
First, I think we need to disconnect the call to help those in need from the call to change the hearts, minds, and behaviors of others. The stronger we feel about how others should believe or act or think, the more likely we are to justify using an offer of help to manipulate those in need. Second, we all need to get better at saying no when we know we ought to.
Sometimes help means not giving someone what they think they need. And sometimes really helping someone means not getting what you want in return. Maybe if we were better at drawing a line between wants and needs, between giving and exchanging, we’d not struggle so much with achieving balance.