On Being a Do-Gooder

I was embroiled in two facebookery conversations the other evening. My phone, flashed with regular updates, informing me that I had “likes”, “comments” and even a few inbox messages. It was, for a keen orator like myself – a rather wonderful evening.

Both conversations drew a passion from me, a part of my personality which I am both proud to own, and pleased to share. A humane, carefree knowledge inside which offers me permission to reach out to help, when someone is asking for it.

Let me start by saying – I have, had to hone this part of me. It has had to mature from the smothering overbearing LET ME RESCUE THE WORLD, to a more gentle breeze, that – should it land upon the right shoulders – is an incredible touching experience. In the past “my helping you”, would have increased my dwindling ego no end, and it became a desperate attempt to rescue myself through saving others. As with all life skills, they mature – I found therapy and a secure personal relationship with myself, a far better way to save me.

In my here and now world, if I feel that I have something to offer someone else – if they WANT my help (and that again was something I had to learn), then I feel free and easy to offer it. They might listen, they might debate my points, and they might reject everything I have to say or give…….. and that’s OK. Or they might listen, and what I have to say could just make a difference – and that is a wonderfully touching experience.

Alfred Adler was a therapist, who amongst many theories examined how our personal development was affected by our “social Interest”. “According to Adler, when we feel encouraged, we feel capable and appreciated and will generally act in a connected and cooperative way. When we are discouraged, we may act in unhealthy ways by competing, withdrawing, or giving up. It is in finding ways of expressing and accepting encouragement, respect, and social interest that help us feel fulfilled and optimistic.”

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So back to these facebook moments. On the one hand, I was debating my personal belief system about the issues concerning refugees entering the UK. I personally hold true to a value that if I would want help fleeing war, if I would want someone to take in my children – then I must offer the same, or similar. On the other hand, I was offering some experiential thoughts concerning helping mothers with angry toddlers. The refugee debate was fuelled of course, by louder disagreements – each person equally entitled to their own opinion. Yet, what amused me most – is how almost simultaneously, in one conversation I was criticized for being a “do-gooder”, and on the other hand thanked for “voicing up”.

What is this Adult created dislike of people offering help ? It isn’t the first time I have been handed this adjective.

When our children are small, we take pride in when they begin to listen to their empathic responses. When “Billy”, runs over to pick up a tumbled down “Jane”, his mother will smile with love. When “John” offers “Sally”, half of his break time snack the teacher will smile that her class is working together to create harmony.

Let’s explore the opposite – Billy sees Jane fall over and laughs, or just ignores her. Sally sits in the corner of the class, a veil of childlike shame hiding the reality that she forgot her snack today. I think most parents would be a little sad that their child didn’t step in to help.

Travel further into teenage years, which parent hasn’t criticised their adolescent for their self centred behaviour!
Yet it so happens, that on reaching the mature stage of our development called adult hood. We must “look after our own”. It is as if the charity shop of our heart, must only stay open during our younger years. Once we are married, or settled, or have fully harvested our life skills – we must then shut the doors.

Perhaps there is a fear, if we start helping then all that “stuff” we have hoarded will disappear. Suddenly the adult formations of Jane or Sally will rob and steal everything we have gathered.charity heart
There are alternatives to being a do-gooder, I could be a do-nothing, or a do-badder. I could be a sit-backer, or a tell-everyone-else-to-do-it. I’ll wear my do-gooder label with pride thank you very much, and hope that the charity shop that resides in my heart will eternally stay open.