I wish I could tell you that when your heart is in the right place, and when you have good intentions, that things always work out.
The truth is, sometimes even though all you want to do is reach out a helping hand, it can go devastatingly, mortifying-ly wrong.
See, I have good intentions, but it’s my observational skills and instincts that perhaps need work.
One lesson I’ve learned is that if you’re going to offer assistance to a person in a public setting, you may want to be sure that person actually needs assistance first. Otherwise both parties just end up embarrassed.
I could give details but that would likely only further serve to highlight my incompetence.
The point is, it can be difficult to ascertain when someone truly needs help. Add to that the possible ethical dilemma of wondering if your assistance would actually be more enabling than empowering.
Yes, it may not be a good idea to give out money to a person asking for change, but I prefer to err on the side of kindness. It isn’t up to me to judge what someone is going to do with my help, it’s just up to me to not ignore a need when I see one.
Instead of money, I have handed out granola bars, given a ride to a woman trying to carry several bags while it was raining and dropped groceries off anonymously on a doorstep or two.
It’s also important to be good stewards of our money and research organizations we are thinking about donating to, to ensure the overhead costs aren’t more than the actual funds that go to those that need it.
That’s true, as long as you don’t use the uncertainty of funds being used well as an excuse to do nothing to help out your fellow humans.
I had an experience earlier this fall where I was approached by a person who said they were hungry, so I bought them something to eat.
Talking to this person, I could see old scars that were somewhat telling, and their body seemed fragile from lack of proper nutrition. I could only guess they may suffer from issues with addiction. I honestly couldn’t tell if they were inebriated at the time, but that didn’t really matter to me personally.
What was truly heartbreaking was that the food I provided was hardly touched. Even though food, and probably fluids, was what their body desperately needed, addiction rewires the brain to prioritize that one thing over everything else, even that which sustains life.
What the person really needed was long-term support and resources. I made a call, but the person was already gone before I got through to possible help.
Some said I shouldn’t have wasted my time or my money. Some said it was foolish to try. Though I wondered if I had handled the situation properly, and it didn’t feel great to feel like I failed, I can’t believe the right thing to do would’ve been nothing.
I try to help others, but I could do more, and joining others who are experts at serving their targeted demographics would be a good place to start to maximize my own clumsy efforts.
Now, with the weather starting to get colder, may be a good time to start thinking about how you can contribute to local humanitarian efforts.
Donating warm clothing or non-perishable food items to the food bank, for example, are simple things that can go a long way for those who need it.
Local initiatives that seek to help the under-served or underprivileged population need volunteers, so if you have a desire to help others, consider getting involved.
Mentoring with Big Brothers Big Sisters can be a great way to have a positive influence on youth in the community. Other initiatives such as the overnight mat program can only run when there are enough caring people willing to volunteer their time.
I can’t promise you’ll always have a positive experience when extending a helping hand or that there will always be a good outcome; you may not feel warm and fuzzy when your offer is rejected or it turns out your good intentions were misplaced. In fact, in can feel pretty terrible.
I do promise though that caring — thinking of a person in need like another human being who deserves compassion and not derision — is always worth it and never misplaced.