Helping People by Helping Them
I’ve never received a penny from welfare, unemployment, or food stamps. For the most part, It hasn't been necessary above the normal programs that we take for granted. When I was fresh out of high school, I did receive about $500 a semester of financial aid for college during my first two years, but that is about the extent of my additional assistance in life from the tax payers.
Besides that, I’ve just used the public stuff that we all use from time to time. I use the road and sidewalk systems we all pay for. I enjoy our National Parks when I get a chance. I once had to call the fire department because I was burning trash and it got away from me a bit. I used the police service once when I heard a domestic dispute getting out of hand in a nearby home. I had my K-12 paid for by the tax payers like most everyone else.
The point is that I’ve probably used less financial assistance than the vast majority of my fellow citizens, yet I fervently support most all aid programs, and when another program comes up, assuming it is based in sound principle, I am usually first in line to support it.
I’m a pragmatist. I know that too many aid programs and aid programs that are poorly thought out can be detrimental. I know they can lead to excessive laziness and fraud, but I also know that if these programs are structured properly, most people who use them will use them for a short time to better their situation and move on. I know that the best way to help someone is by helping them.
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Fred Rogers: the world misses you.
Helping vs. Not Helping
I bring up the obvious principle of helping people by helping them because of late the concept of helping people by not helping them has so strongly came into vogue. It has even been suggested that so much as a kind gesture or facial expression directed towards the less fortunate will somehow encourage them to not better their situation.
In the U.S. nothing exceeds like excess. It isn’t that helping people by not helping never works. It does work sometimes, but more often than not, it is better to help people by actually helping them. It is definitely a foolish notion to think you should always help people by not helping them. I’ll give you a few examples. Someone you care about develops a substance abuse problem. Do you immediately discard this person? If you truly care about him or her you don’t. Do you enable this person? No, not if you want him or her to survive, you don’t.
So what do you do? You try to offer as much help as you can for this person to overcome the addiction. The point is, the first thing you do is help, and you continue to help, even if this person slips up, as long as he or she is trying. It isn’t until later and as a last resort that you give up on the person and part ways, and sometimes parting ways, tough love, helping by not helping, is the only way to give the individual a wakeup call, but usually when you do this, they wind up dying on a street corner somewhere.
It isn’t that helping by not helping never works. Sometimes it is the only appropriate alternative, but it is almost always a last resort and not the first one. Let me give another example that is less dire than a drug addiction. This time let’s go with education. You are trying to teach a student how to divide numbers that produce decimals. He or she can’t seem to understand how decimals work. You try several different methods to no avail, so eventually you have to give up on the student for a bit and go to the aid of other students.
When you do this as a teacher, the hope is that at some point between class meetings the concept will click in the student’s head, or they will help themselves by finding another person that might be able to relate the concept to them better. Though you are trying to help by not helping in this scenario, it doesn’t mean you give up on the student entirely. It just means that you have given up until the next class meeting. By then the student may have mastered the concept on his or her own. If not, you try to help again.
The overarching point here is that you help people by helping them far more often than by doing nothing. You see someone stranded with a flat tire. You stop and see if they need help. You see an elderly person, confused and overheated in a parking lot. You stop and help. You see a child, lost and crying. You stop and help. You see a neighbor with a lot of groceries to carry in. You stop and help.
Being nice to one another can be fun.
Ways to Help
This isn’t rocket science. It isn’t anything new, yet more and more people are buying into the concept of helping others by not helping them. Why? Because it is convenient in the short term. I know it would greatly simplify my life to just sit back and watch the world burn, but guess what, I know that one of these days I’ll need help, too.
Like everyone else, I don’t know how to do everything, and inevitably I need help from time to time. Let’s say I want to build a patio and I don’t know how. What I need at that point is not somebody to sit back smugly and watch me fail. What I need is help: real, palpable help.
In addition, it’s fun and pleasurable to help people. If you’re anything like me, when you successfully help someone, it gives you a good feeling deep down that is like no other. One of the easiest ways to help is to teach. This doesn’t require a classroom. If you know how to do something, just explain it to someone who doesn’t and needs to know how. Or help them with a project and teach them by example.
Lending is another way to help. A friend or acquaintance needs to use a table saw for a bit. You have a table saw you aren’t currently using. Well, lend it to them. You have a copy of a movie that a friend wants to see. Lend it to them. A friend needs to borrow $100 to get through the month. You have an extra hundred bucks. Lend it to them.
But People Will Take Advantage of You!
I’ve lent things out to people my whole life. I don’t even need one whole hand to count the number of times I’ve been burned. Compared to the companies and corporations that have burned me, individuals are far more trustworthy.
Besides, they only get to burn you once. You’re not out that much, and these things are usually a two-way street. When you need help, you have people to ask. At the end of the day, it’s a better way to live, people helping one another.
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Helping with Government Aid
Up to this point, I’ve mainly focused on helping from a personal level, but government aid programs really aren’t any different. When somebody is down on his or her luck they need help. When you need to get from point A to B, unless you own the road system, you need help. Almost every time you walk or drive somewhere, you are using government aid. When you are out at the lake with your family, government aid makes this possible. These things are paid for with tax dollars.
When you send your kids to public school, again, you’re sucking at the teat of government aid. Even if you’re paying for your kids to go to private school, most likely this is facilitated to some degree by a government handout. People just don’t understand that all of us are getting help on some level.
As things are, you can’t support a family in most parts of the U.S. working a full time job with just a high school degree. More and more, people are working full time and still winding up effectively homeless. These people have tried to help themselves. These people are working hard and doing what they’re supposed to do. It is very likely they are working harder than others who are getting by alright because they have a college degree.
Do you honestly believe we’re doing them a disservice by giving them food stamps so their families can eat? I hear a lot of talk about the American spirit and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps from people who want to do away with all aid programs, but a lot of us can be full of the American spirit and yank on those boot straps just as hard as humanly possible, and without help, still stay right in the gutter.
“Well, these people should have got a post high school degree.” Most people don’t get a post high school degree because they can’t afford one, unless they have help. Like with the examples I gave on the personal level, one of the best ways we can provide aid is education. Not only does education aid help for a person's current circumstances, like food stamps, they also improve a person’s future outlook. In other words, money put into helping people get educated reduces the cost for programs like food stamps, welfare, unemployment, etc., because with the education they will probably be able to make a living wage.
Why do People Believe the Best Way to Help People is by not Helping Them?
When I see all these people trying to do away with the codes of common decency that we have had forever, I can only come to two rational conclusions why they feel this is necessary: 1. They are confused about how things work. 2. They don’t presently have a need for these programs, so they don’t want to pay for them. The first explanation is fairly self-explanatory. The second needs elaboration.
As discussed earlier, as far as cash in my wallet, I have received very little money from the government in my lifetime, but I support financial aid programs because I know they help people in need, and I may find myself having to use one of these programs someday.
I am able to have these feelings about programs I’ve never used because of a condition called empathy. Empathy is the ability to experience the feelings of another as one’s own. Not only do most humans have the capacity to feel empathy, but many animals as well.
I’m not suggesting that people in general have lost the ability to feel empathy, but that they have found a way to circumvent it. By having a lot of people (politicians, wealthy, writers, etc.) tell them that empathy is bad, and because it is convenient and easy to believe in not helping people when you don’t need help yourself, these people have trained their minds to believe that by fighting their basics instincts of common decency, they are actually doing the right thing.
The irony is that the majority of people wanting to do away with government aid programs, unlike myself, have used these programs in the past to get upright. The further irony is that the moment these people find themselves in a bad situation again, they are the one’s howling the loudest for government assistance.
Be nice to one another. Help one another. Share. Did you watch Sesame Street growing up? We should all know this stuff already, yet there’s a big push to do away with all the things that make polite society possible.
We’re Americans! We help one another! It’s part of the social contract! We teach people to fish and while they’re learning, we give them a few fish to survive. We do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
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