Monday, March 17, 2008

Help people to help themselves

Last month I wrote an article about the difference between needing help and deserving help. Besides deciding whether a person deserves any help, how we should help him/her is also something I'd like to talk about.

I guess to most people, the definition of "help" is

Doing something to solve the problem of the person in need of help

Sounds reasonable, isn't it?

Yes, it's reasonable, but it's incomplete. If I'm to define what "help" is, I'd define it as

Doing something to solve the problem of the person in need of help AND educate/empower him/her so that s/he can solve the problem him/herself next time

This is true in most cases. I say most cases because for some problems you just have to help the person solving it repeatedly: helping a blind person to cross the road, lifting a person in wheelchair up the stairs when there's no accessible route, you get the idea.

Without educating the person so that s/he can help him/herself next time, you'll have to help them over and over again. Isn't that not so effective (repeated effort) and reliable (for some reason you can't help him/her next time, e.g. you're sick)?

I always admire doctors who participate in organization like Doctors Without Borders to help people in developing countries. Not only do they have to give up their high paying job, they also have to risk their own health since the places they go to may have disease transmitting around.

However, I always wonder, are they also helping those people to help themselves? Are they establishing some kind of schools or programs so that local doctors can be trained? Are they educating the people so that they know how to prevent the disease in the first place?

If they're doing these, it's good. Otherwise, if one day there isn't any doctor who's willing to volunteer to help people in those poor countries, the mortal rates will rise again. It's just not solving the problem at the root.

Think about it, if you empower the people you help to help themselves in the future, they can in turn help other people with similar problems and thus spreading the effort exponentially. Life is just too short for effort to be spent on the same problem the second time.

So, next time you help someone out, why don't you ask yourself: am I helping him/her to help him/herself next time? :P


  1. Maybe you are just over think this. What people need in this world is not "help;" it's "love." If you shown people "love," they will be changed; if you just "helped" them, of course the result may not be as expected.

    However, I also believe that, if you are to show love, you will not think too much about what your action will do to others. Love itself is power.

    Hope you understand what I mean.

  2. yun: Sorry but I think I have to disagree with you this time.

    I do agree that "love" is a essential component in human relationships. As a matter of fact, if you can show "love" when you "help" someone out, that's better than "help" without any "love".

    However, "love" alone doesn't address the problem mentioned in my post.

    For example, your husband likes to gamble and owe people quite some money. Because you "love" him, you "help" him to pay the debt. However, you haven't done anything else to stop him from borrowing money to gamble again. So, you're not really helping him to help himself.

    I also disagree that you don't have to "think too much about what your action will do to others".

    Easy example: you like to hang out with a bunch of people and you feel happy about it. You love your friend and you bring him along to your group since you want him to be happy like you too. However, you don't know that your friend in an introvert and actually hates to have too many people around him. So, in this case, although you love your friend, ignoring the actual actions being carried out can cause harm.

    Unless your definition of "love" is "sensible love", which in turn leads to effective actions , the word "love" can include "blind love".


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