When Help Is Harm

It’s true that many people are alive today because of the help of other people. It’s also true that our ability to help others is one of the most brilliant ways in which the beauty of our human spirit is shown. But we must not forget that even the best of things can have bad consequences. Even the splendid sunlight can burn sometimes.


Are there times when helping somebody means harming them?


It seems that these days, we tend to have selfish motives when we help others. We want to feel good about ourselves, we want others to think that we are good people, we want to be loved and admired and praised. So on Friday nights, as we walk down the streets with our friends we throw some change into the homeless man’s hat. And when we’re doing our regular shopping at the supermarkets, we offer to pay for the groceries of the lady who has to leave behind some items at the counter because she doesn’t have enough money. But in all these cases, when we help others,  we never stop to think of what is best for them.


That homeless man may be very grateful that he has some money for dinner. But that lady may be left feeling embarrassed and all the more conscious of her financial problems after your help.


We all naturally want to be independent. We don’t want to have to rely on the deeds of others to survive. That’s why as children, we learn how to walk on our own, how to feed ourselves, how to dress ourselves. From that homeless man to that lady at the cashier, everybody want to have a level of independence. We all want to be able to stand on our own, to control our own lives. So although we don’t often think about this as we offer to help others, most of us don’t like having to constantly rely on other people’s charity. We don’t want to always be the receivers of other people’s help. It makes us feel dependent, disadvantaged, powerless in our own lives. Obviously, if you are able to help me, it means that you’re are better and more competent than myself, doesn’t it?


So people may not always be excited to receive your help. They may sometimes want to work their own way out of their problems so that they feel strong and independent that way. Maybe it’s worth it to stop and think about this before you decide to help.

Cartoon of Boy Tying Shoelaces, Help


Sometimes, your help can cause people to feel so weak and helpless that they fail to live their best lives. You know that friend you may have had, the one that was struggling in class, the one you always did homework for and gave test answers to on more than one occasion? She could have spent all that time thinking that she was not good enough for this world, that she was weak and not competent enough. She might have concluded because she always needed somebody else’s help in class, she won’t ever be strong enough to stand on her own. Maybe to this day, she never expects much from herself because she came to define herself as powerless and incompetent. That she would always need others to survive. All because you helped her without thinking of what was best for her. If you constantly carry a child around, he may never learn to walk on his own.


I hope none of us ever hopes to ruin somebody’s life by helping them, but that is what sometimes happens. And if we want to reduce the chances of our help becoming harm, we should learn to help selflessly. Whenever we extend our helping hand, we should learn to think of the people on the other end of that hand. We should learn to forget ourselves and our secret motives, and to really consider what will truly benefit the people we’re trying to help.


And whenever you do decide to help someone, focus on trying to empower them to become independent instead of just helping them for today. So while the children at the orphanage may appreciate the old clothes you send them, it may be even better for you to go over and offer your time teaching the younger ones to read, helping them with homework, encouraging them to discover their talents. And while that friend my appreciate you doing her homework for her, it may benefit her even more if you could spend some time explaining how those math problems should be done.


Sometimes it’s okay to let people work their own way out of their problems. That way they may be made stronger by their struggle, and they may learn something that will keep them independent in the future.


And as always, cheers to life!

Quote On Helping People

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4 thoughts on “When Help Is Harm”

  • This reminds me of instances when you have to sometimes withdraw your help so that others can learn on their own. It can be hurtful and hard to do, but sometimes its for the best in the end.

    Sometimes they’re willing to do it on their own, other times you have to force them to.


  • I was actually talking about his topic with a coaching client on Friday and you have captured it brilliantly, Nelu. The way we offer help is so very important and also allowing people to ask instead of jumping in assuming they need or want our help. It is a lesson I am much in need of remembering.

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