Daily Prompt Sorry, I’m Busy Tell us about a time when you should have helped someone… but didn’t.
Help is a complicated term. On the surface it means “Give someone whatever they need in the moment so they can get to the next moment.” In my own life and set of values it means “put the other guy first.” What if you put the other guy first to such an extent that there is no longer any you?
I was raised to help. My dad was sick and needed a lot of help — help to get into his wheelchair, help to eat his meals (I often fed him), help to get off the floor, help to hold his urinal. Mom needed help in the kitchen, help around the house, help with my dad. My brother needed help with his homework, help talking to his teachers at school, and later help supporting his drinking habit. Having been raised a “helper” it was hard for me to see when helping stopped and enabling began. If I had understood that, I would have started helping my brother a lot sooner and stopped “helping” him.
Another case in point, my niece — whom I love very much — needed to get away from a bad boyfriend. She’s not a child; she’s in her mid thirties. She really wanted me to rescue her. I was surprised when, on the phone with her, I flat out refused. I believed she needed to get out on her own — even if it meant going to a shelter for a while — and find, fight for, her own life. My niece wasn’t about to do this. She found another relative, another aunt, to help, to rescue her.
That rescue turned out as I expected. They had a fight over what my niece would and would not do. A rescuer naturally feels he/she has some rights over what the rescued chooses to do, while the rescued has no sense of owing the rescuer anything. My niece moved out from her other aunt’s house, but even that was not a “pure” move. She found other people who were willing to rescue her.
It’s all about the “prime directive.” Every other person is a unique culture and each of us deserves the opportunity to develop and evolve in our own unique way. I think my niece needs to get a real job, buy a car, get a place of her own and forget the bad boyfriend. In short, I agree with her other aunt, but, because I have not attempted a rescue, I have no feelings of betrayal at my niece’ decision to make money, save it, rely on others for transportation, food and housing, and return — ultimately — to the bad boyfriend. Rescuing someone comes with the tacit agreement that the rescuer will be used by the rescued. And, while I hate the adage “No good deed goes unpunished,” it’s wise to stay out of range if you are clear-eyed enough to see pain on the horizon…
When I retired from teaching after 35 years I found that I had to learn who I was without “helping.” Over this past year I’ve gotten better at standing up for myself, in short, being myself. Now when the question of helping others comes up, unless I can see clearly what the need is and that there is a chance of success, I say no. How do I feel when I refuse to “help”? I feel liberated.