Monday, December 19, 2011

But I Just Want to Help: The Myths of Being Charitable

Helpful actions
I was reading an article online awhile ago, and something that they said resounded with me. They were talking about ways in which people try to help, but actually make things worse.

I thought to myself, 'self... how many times have we bemoaned the useless "help" that so many try to provide? how many times have we wanted to explain to people that if they would just think a few minutes past the immediate self-congratulatory feeling they were after, they would realize they aren't doing me any favors?'. Of course, myself agreed completely.

Ok, you got 2 second to get your ass across that street...
Then it's pancake time!
It started in college (well, that was the first time I articulated the feeling) when I had to cross three lanes of one-way traffic to get from my dorm to the classes I was taking. Every other day, some idjit with good intentions (road to HELL, remember?) would stop in the middle of the road to allow me to cross. Of course, with only one lane stopped, it didn't help. And the stopped car actually made it worse because the cars behind this well-intentioned dumbass would go around.

Look for the break in traffic... Wait for it... Wait for it...
This meant that a situation that would be resolved by normal traffic flow and periodic stoplights up the road, now had a frickin' beaver dam clogging things up. So, rocks-for-brains would stop, wait about 15-30 seconds (just long enough to create a clogged up traffic situation) and then keep going.

Sometimes I would attempt to wave this stupid-but-nice person along, hoping to avoid the auto flow choke, but half the time they would ignore or insistently gesture me across the street, never realizing that should I do that, I would DIE by the oncoming traffic in the other two lanes. Maybe they weren't trying to be nice. Maybe they were trying to kill me!

Anyways, the point of this is that steady and smooth flow of traffic is much more important than the empty, useless gesture of stopping in the middle of the road.

A good deed in theory...
Oh, and sometimes, if you* stop and look around, you might realize that the "nice" or "polite" gesture that you were making in a moment of superficial altruism, really wasn't at all helpful. And instead of getting pissy because no one is accepting your offer or thanking you for your effort, maybe you should think a little more carefully about your "nice", "polite" gesture - and do something ACTUALLY HELPFUL. Just sayin'.
*This is meant to be "you" the general populace, not "you" the reader necessarily.

And this advice is, by no means, meant to be limited to only traffic situations, or holding doors (which, btw, is almost ALWAYS helpful - I'm talking to YOU, idiot who always drops the door on me when my hands are full). THINK about what you are doing... not just the joy you will feel knowing that someone will "owe you one," or feel "so incredibly grateful" for your Mother-Teresa-like generosity. Because that isn't why you should do nice things anyways.

"Random" doesn't mean "head up butt"
You should do it because you can see how what you do will actually help the person. And if you don't think further than the next few seconds, and look at how your actions will effect others (not just you and the lucky recipient of your gift of niceness), then you aren't actually doing something NICE.

A little forethought is always the best gift to give.
FYI, here are some people who agree:
When Lending a Hand Isn’t Helpful
Helicopter Parenting
The right thing to do
Disadvantages of being nice

1 comment:

  1. While I often enjoy an honest and open opinion, I was quite offended at all of the "idiot" and "dumbass" referals to people in this world who did what they could at the moment to help you, wanted or not. Perhaps if you had taken the time to look at it from another perspective, or been grateful at least for their attempt at kindness, you could have gained some joy at the thought that someone opened their lives to You... for just a moment, to try to do something nice for you. I'll take an attempt at kindness over blatant rudeness anyday. To be grateful would bring happiness. It's all in your mindset.