Popular Posts

Monday, 31 May 2010

Helping or Hindering: the Hitch to Heroes' Ego Heaven.

A couple of weeks back I made a big mistake.  I wanted to help someone and instead of being a hero it all blew up in my face and hurt others.  A far cry from helping.  Why so? I hear you ask.  Well…  I think I could blame my ego packing its swimsuit and plastic armbands into a suitcase and swaddling off on an “all inclusive holiday to paradise”.  Ego trip galore.  I wanted to go there and get the t-shirt.  Super me.

I heard a story from my friend, Toni, at the Direct Help Foundation in Nepal years back that shocked me.  He wanted to help a woman who lived with her three children in a tiny bathroom.  He wanted to help her get out of such an indignant situation.  But she was having nothing of it.  Better the devil you know that the devil you are petrified of.

Another one that my Toni told me is of a project he was doing.  He bought cheap rice for the women in the neighbourhood.  Meanwhile in his orphanage they were all enjoying the expensive rice.  There´s a big difference when rice is the main thing you are eating.  You really do notice the difference between shifting through tiny stones before boiling a bland, rough rice, and good rice that isn’t just stone-less but also creamy and delicious.   I guess every time Toni ate his good rice he was imaging the cheap rice he was giving to his neighbours and it just didn’t seem right.  So he changed the rice so everyone had good rice. A neighbour dropped in and said she didn’t want the good stuff, please just give her the normal stony rice.  “Why?” a perplexed Toni asked, “Because,” she answered softly “my children will get used to this, and if this free rice stops, I won´t be able to give my children good rice and they will complain”.   

Which teaches us two things, first: we can´t impose our idealism of our perfect garden (previous blog) on others - they have different conditions to us, our prized plants will not grow in their soil.  Every other person apart from us has a life different to ours, different perspectives, different needs and values.  Even people who are twins have their own individual garden.   

And the second: adolescents all over the world are difficult.

There is something that I think we all do too easily (at least I do), and that is to think that everyone thinks and feels like us.  My good taste, I believe, must be seen as good taste to all the world.  Surprisingly (at least to me) it isn´t.  Jack Sprat and all that (he scoffed out on the fat while his wife picked the lean).  We all have our own paths to tread and we can´t assume that others will learn as much as us, be as happy as us or be as fulfilled, frog marched along our particular path.

I guess the only thing we can do, if we see that someone could be in need of a helping hand, is to say to them we´re here if they need us. Making people feel not lonely anymore and supported is perhaps the best work we ever do. 

Montse my mate, is on a roll at the moment with the idea that when we do get a chance to help, we should do things to help the person along their own path, instead of doing things for them and taking over. It´s that old nut again: fish a man a dinner, he has a dinner, teach him to fish, he has all the fish he may need…let´s hope he can cook.

So, the conclusion is, people have to want help before we run to them with our super hero attitude and we have to wait for them to ask for our help.  This can be verbally or otherwise.  We can nudge them a tiny bit maybe, hint, encourage, but essentially all we can do is wait and be there.

Easy conclusion.

Well done.  Lets go home and have a cup of tea.

But wait a moment…does that not also imply that we ourselves, when we yearn for help and advice, also have to ask for it? 

Instead of moaning how cruel the world is?



I find it hard, for many reasons; not wanting to admit a weakness, not wanting to disturb others, not feeling worthy, not wanting to feel inferior, fear of pay back time.  Bah bah bah I say, but geez they are tough cookies to crack.  

But if we are honest we are all in “a situation” in certain aspects of our lives like the Nepalese woman in the bathroom, better the devil you know…else we would be Buddhas growing a big pot bellies by now.  We feel clever staying in our cages even though the door is open.  We find ourselves in a situation in which people can help us out, but we are having none of it…

The biggie, the big biggie, is admitting to ourselves that we may indeed have a problem.  Pulling our heads out from the comfortable sand to realise that we are not, after all, a perfect being, and that we need help.  And before that seemingly insurmountable hurdle is hurdled, we will not listen to anyone.  Because they just sound daft.  

Or worse still, insulting.

The thing is that most people LOVE helping others when they can and know how to.  Enric has developed over the years an impressive internal map of Barcelona.  He´s a veritable walking GPS.  When there are tourists wavering, ripped map in hand, he walks a little more slowly, swerving towards them, hoping they will ask him directions.  He loves being able to use what he has created.  It is so satisfying. 

We all have mental structures that we have created, and they are magnificent.  They are our “gardens”.  We have all sorts of understandings in those flowerbeds.  Even my 2 year old nephew knows how to turn off Adrian’s super TV.  I´ve already asked him for help, we contracted.  So I’ll leave that to him.

We all know stuff that others don´t.  And using that info with others (helping) is quite titillating...Isn’t it?  Cos if not, it´s like having the car of your dreams without any petrol. It´s getting you no-where.

And as to that idea of not wanting to disturb people…I muse and feel assured by the idea, that people these days don´t really do things that they aren´t prepared to do.  Let´s face it, if a friend phones and asks for help, I would love to…after class.  We all have our priorities, and normally nothing is too urgent that we can´t fit it in easily around our schedules.   

So I say, be generous, let someone help us.  Help them get that special feeling from helping.  Sharing is two-fold. As you give you receive as you receive you give.  Buddha said “If you knew as I did about giving and receiving you wouldn´t let a meal pass without giving some of it away”

So, I reckon if we need help, ask for it.  And if we want to help others, wait for them to ask us in their own way.  And when we help, the first thing (and often the only thing) we have to do is listen, because what we want or need is not necessary want they would want or need.  With our own mental structure we can listen and ask questions about theirs that help throw the light on a solution of their own that is compatible with their garden structure, and in the meantime probably teaches us a thing or two.

Else it could all blow up in your face and your ego will laugh at you with a bad palm tree shirt on. Trust me, I´ve been there.

Thanks for reading, it really helps!

Thanks to Toni Aguilar for permission to include his stories.  
He set up the Direct Help Foundation (http://tdhf.ibernet.com
and is one of the world´s true experts in Humanitarian Aid.