What is the best way to “help” people? Are we really seeking to “help” them or to “help” ourselves, making us feel better about ourselves? This post was originally published August 11, 2015, “Do you really want to do good?” It came to mind recently in light of some of the public discussions on how we are to “help” people. I say “help” here because it could mean how a church reaches out in a community. It could mean how we individually seek to help those around us. It could mean too how we look at our public systems of care.
So there is a lot in this word “help.” What does it mean to “help”? How do we do the most good?
People do a lot of good. Many people are wired (as a Christian I would say by God) to care for and to love others, especially people in need. Helping people is a good thing.
It is good to do good.
What if you found out what you were doing was not helping? What if you found out what you were doing was making the problem worse?
Right away your first reaction would be, “I do not have to worry about this, because he isn’t talking to me.” You see the looks on the faces of the people you are helping, their smiles. You know how good it makes you feel. “I am helping,” you say.
What if I am talking to you? What if you did find out that what you are doing is not truly helping, but it is making the problem worse?
There are a number of books that speak into this question of how the good we do might not be, well, good. They speak to some of the reasons that we seek to do good, which also may not be good.
This list is not exhaustive, but it is a good list to check out:
Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, And How to Reverse It by Robert Lupton. The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good by Peter Greer Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980 by Charles Murray The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems by Richard Pascale and Jerry Sternin
Here are a couple big ideas I have taken away. Most of these come directly out of Lupton’s work, but you can see it reflected in the other books as well:
Handouts are for emergencies.If they can do it themselves, let them, or help them learn how to do it.Help people in need by helping them transition, not by helping them stay where they are.
To be honest, I am wrestling with this topic myself. I am not trying to say that any existing organization or ministry is “wrong.” I think that would be rather ignorant of me. I will leave you with this though.
Continue doing good, but also continue to critically examine the good you are seeking to do.