Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

As proverbs go, that one is truer than most. It isn't, however, all that helpful by itself. The only advice you can take from it is not to try to help anyone, which is quite a steep price. After years of meditation standing on one leg in a Bhutanese lamasery gift shop, I have discovered the key.

You cannot let yourself think good intentions permit you to do something that is otherwise wrong. The ends don't justify the means. Too many people believe otherwise. Sadly, they're also already familiar with the idea that some people believe otherwise, so they're inoculated against that truth, even with its piles of supporting evidence. I also don't think this is where most people go wrong.

The more significant and subtle point is that the value of help is determined by the recipient. Your friend who's having relationship troubles with the guy that you think isn't good enough for him? You're not helping when you advocate a break-up. I could lose a few pounds, but don't steal my Ben & Jerry's. Cleaning someone's house for them is a great favor, but if you put everything in the wrong place, you've just created more work. An overly-aggressive evangelist may think he's helping me by badgering me to Jesus, but he's really just being a pain in the ass.

That's the part that I think most people don't get. They want to feel like they're helping, even when the recipient of that "help" is worse off as a result. If you're truly sincere about helping someone, you'll make sure you're not imposing your own agenda. You'll make sure you're seeing things from their perspective. And most importantly, you'll make sure that you're actually improving the situation. Otherwise, your "help" is just an act of selfishness.

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3 Comments:

Blogger notjonathon said...

seems like you've developed a system for passive aggressive compassion.

July 30, 2008 at 3:14 PM  
Blogger Ketan said...

I don't know what that means.

July 30, 2008 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger notjonathon said...

there you go!

August 1, 2008 at 12:37 PM  

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