On Helping Others

(A brief essay categorized under “Things Sean Is Learning Really Really Slowly And Should Probably Be Cautious About Sharing Publicly”)


If we do not recognize that everybody needs help, then we will not be able to help anybody.

Important corollary number one: knowing that another body needs help, does not mean that that we know what help is needed.

Important corollary number two: knowing that another body needs help, and knowing what help that body needs, does not mean that we are the one called to provide that help.

The corollaries make clear that we need to be humble and we need to go slowly. It’s tempting to visualize ourselves as saviors whose love will redeem all the world. But we don’t know what we don’t know, which mitigates against grand projects and big leaps.

When we know how to help – when it’s clear how to help – then yes. Help. But we don’t always know and it isn’t always clear and in those cases, “help” can easily unintentionally morph into “hurt.” Or “hinder.”

And sometimes, even when knowing the specific form of help needed, we aren’t the ones who need to bring it. Someone else might be better situated to offer the help. That’s okay. Perhaps there are no saviors, only patterns of saving, and the formal way in which we interact with those patterns is . . . not up to us to determine.

We are not dictators of kindness. We don’t get to insist that others accept this or that scenario for a solution to their problem. They are allowed to own the problem on the terms and conditions that resonate and make sense to them – up to and including not having the problem we think they have – and our work is to abide.

Note that sometimes we help others by acknowledging our own need for help. To ask for help is to invite the other to help us, which is itself a form of love. If we are always the helper – if we insist on that role, subtly or otherwise – then we are only adopting a one-sided vision of helpfulness. It’s okay – it’s more than okay – to be helped by another. What matters is the help – which is love – rather than the specific narrative assigned to it, or the specific role we play in the narrative.

The suggestion is that there is a sort of relationship premised not on a victim/hero or savior/lost soul dichotomy. Rather, it is a relationship premised on a level playing field, where asking for and responding to a request for help are features of a relationship between equals, each one of whom could be the other and, with respect to their asking for and offering help, have been and will continue to be the other.

There is no one. There is also no other.

On that view, being helpful is a sort of dynamic continuum, a sort of wave on which we surf – or through which we gently tumble – aiming for grace and balance rather than status or praise.

Sometimes there is a tendency to view problems as flaws of character. We shouldn’t have problems, nor should others. We posit a world in which there are no problems or flaws. Everything is awesome! But what if that world does not exist? What if what exists is this ongoing attentiveness and willingness to help and be helped?

In my ongoing interior dialogue between arrogance and humility, helpfulness and spiritual self-aggrandizing, I wrote a little screed in which I suggested that A Course in Miracles could be shortened to literally “helping others” and “letting our own self be helped.” Neither step can be ignored! We tend to cherish and idolize the first while suppressing the second.

But if we let go of the ideal – the perfect, God as perfection, our self in pursuit of perfection – then what remains is the collective in which we enact love according to our structure. There are ups and downs. There are steps backward. We help and are helped. And it’s no big deal.

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