And you thought doing good, being a helping person, was simple, right? But these days I don't think so. There are so many people, causes, places that need help. And with the information age we see and hear of suffering everywhere. So how do you choose?
We can't do everything, can't fix the world, abolish all suffering. Obviously. So, that might make you think there is no point in helping anyone, especially strangers and people we'll never see or meet.
But for many of us, we have that urge to help beyond our own circle of friends and family.
We are given so many opportunities to help relieve the suffering in the wold that it can be overwhelming. Let's consider the "who".
Personally, I find my heart pulled in some directions more strongly than in others. (And following your heart is a good way to choose.) I listen to my heart and hope I make the best choices. I look for people who are oppressed and are often ignored or marginalized. I send needed items to people on the Rose But Indian Reservation. And I do what I can to support refugees in our country, especially locally.
Some people think it is better to help people they can meet rather than those far away. But what moral difference does it make if the starving child is in front of us or far away? So the "where" is a matter of personal preference. I like to consider what resources are available where they are so I can evaluate how much difference my help might make.
On the reservation, money is very tight. There are no good jobs and the elderly, especially, live in deep poverty. So the help I give there provides items they badly need.
In our country, large communities especially, there are agencies that help refugees. These agencies need volunteers. While the agencies have some funding, what is really needed are people who will help their clients get resettled. I'm hoping to become a volunteer at the Community Refugee and Immigration Services center here in Columbus. I can do things like assisting with their English classes, driving them to appointments, mentoring, and making them feel welcome in what is often an unfriendly environment.
So the "what" of you helping can be anything from making money donations to volunteering, or simply sharing information about the need and encouraging others to help. Your help might be "rescue" - helping a person out of a dire situation, someone right in front of you. You might help a homeless person get to a shelter, for instance. Or you might stop to help someone with a disabled car. "Rescue" is usually unplanned, spontaneous acts.
Another kind of helping can be categorized as "charity." Charity is more likely to be helping an unseen person or someone who is at a physical or emotional distance between you. You donate or raise money for a cause you believe in. You may join with others to support a cause. For instance, some of us met regularly to make little dresses for Africa. And sometimes I ask friends and family to help me make or buy hats and mittens for the children and elderly on the Indian Reservation.
And, of course, there is always the need for financial support for various causes. So donating or fund raising is another kind of charity work.
"When" is an interesting factor to consider. Most of us tend to relegate our helping to our spare time, a convenient time. "Rescue", of course, by nature is spontaneous and often inconvenient. Sometimes we drive past the disabled car because we are in a hurry to get somewhere. We don't want to be inconvenienced.
Finding a time to be a helper takes some consideration. Since we probably don't aspire to the lable of "do-gooder", we need to balance our helping of others with our responsibilities to family, job, friends, and self-care. Yet we need to find a space in our very busy lives because helping is important to our well-being.
That brings us to the "why" of helping. Why do we help others? Why do we contribute to charities, volunteer for unpaid work that benefits others? Why do we do acts of kindness? I'll bet you could get dozens of answers from dozens of different people.
- When you give, you are likely to get back. Perhaps you won't get back the same thing you have given. But when people see you as generous they are likely to be generous to you.
- When you help others you help yourself. You increase your self-respect and personal satisfaction. It feels good.
- Compassion is a human passion. We are born as caring creatures. Often that is not encouraged as we grow up and we can become uncaring. But most of us have some compassion, many have great compassion. It is because we are caring creatures.
- Some feel it is our duty to help others. Some rules about helping and caring have been taught to us and we help out of a sense of duty. This is probably the least joyful reason for helping, however.
- Psychologists tell us that there are neurological reasons: Altruism activates reward centers in the brain. Neurobiologists have found that when engaged in an altruistic act, the pleasure centers of the brain become active.
- Helping those in need helps us feel less upset by observing others in distress.
- The need reminds you of someone or something in your past and helping them helps resolve old feelings from that past situation. Perhaps you have been needy and know how that feels, so you do what you can to help the other person relieve their suffering.
- Helping satisfies personal values or humanitarian concerns. For some people this can have a spiritual component.
- Volunteering can help you gain a better understanding of other people, cultures or places.It satisfies your curiosity and desire to learn.
- Volunteering can be a way to challenge yourself, meet new people and make new friends, or learn new skills that further your career.
And I'm sure there are other motivations. Some might have purely selfish reasons. For instance, someone might volunteer to work on a project with someone who could influence their future in some way. Or they might volunteer solely to have something to put on their resume!
But whatever the reasons, we are all helpers in some way. Why do you help?