How to Avoid Pitfalls When Trying to “help” Someone

Ever tried to “help” someone and for some unforeseen reason it turns into a disaster?

Sometimes people are compelled to help because a particular terrible thing happened (earthquake) or they have been inspired to incorporate helping into their daily life. Most of the time this is all dandy—someone needs something and someone provides what the other needs in a way that can be used. But then again, sometimes this doesn’t happen…

Idea:

After college I decided that even though I didn’t make a bunch of money I could still help people. So I made a pact with myself that on each payday I would buy food for a homeless/hungry looking person. Something that would fit within my budget.

Poor Execution:

There was this guy who was always sitting outside my work building. He would greet everyone each morning. He always wore a really large white collared shirt and he was always smiling to people–who were not smiling as they trudged themselves to work that provided them with the means to not sit outside of buildings smiling for food.

One payday, I went into Starbucks and bought this man a coffee and bagel. I took it out to him and presented it to him and proceeded to wait for his vocal appreciation and thanks for my selfless act. But he was looking in the bag with a confused expression. I know this expression because I often make it myself. Then he looked worried. He looked back at me and tried to feign a smile. Now I had been smiling at him for months and on occasion we would talk and hug…so I knew he was feigning but I couldn’t figure out why. So I just stood there (like an idiot).

Evidence of “helping”—AKA I made a huge mistake:

He didn’t have any teeth. If you have ever had a bagel from Starbucks you know what a terrible moment this realization was. That rock hard bagel was not a gift to someone who was really hungry.

There was horrification on my end. Then begging for forgiveness and trying to get him something else for breakfast. With all my emotional upset, he felt compelled to make me feel better.

He didn’t have any teeth!!!!!!!!! I realized what a privileged dolt I had been. Not just in this exchange but in everything that led up to it. I really had talked to him. I thought I looked him in the face. I thought I was present during our conversations. But in reality I had paid so little real attention that I didn’t notice he was missing something so important. And then to make matters worse, I somehow finagled the disaster so that person who should have been irritated with the turn of events ends up being the consoler. Not cool.

Upside:

I didn’t do that again. You get this warning from me.

After School Special Wrap Up:

When you are so smug with your ability to do good work—check yourself. When you come up with a plan to help someone…run the execution plan by someone who is not planning on doing the same thing to make sure there aren’t huge holes in the plan.

Remember the people who tried to take the “orphans” from Haiti after the earthquake to rural USA—without permission of their living family members, proof they were actual orphans, permission from the country or visas or passports? They needed an outside evaluator. I ended up embarrassing myself—they ended up with brief stints in prison.

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