Unhelpfully helping others

So it should be very obvious by this point how unhelpful gratification is but let me address it for a moment in the context of how we go about helping others. Gratification so often looks like we’re doing something good when in reality, we’re not. The same is true when it comes to our interactions with those around us. Gratifying others, or helping them gratify themselves, although looking like you’re trying to do them a favour, is more like an ‘enabler’ to a drug addict. The ‘but I love them’ arguments don’t justify helping people self sabotage. Giving people what they want when they’re knowingly or unknowingly pursuing self-destruction, obviously isn’t the ideal. Genuinely loving people surely has to include at least trying to help them improve their own welfare. Those who struggle or fail to distinguish between what edifies and gratifies are too likely to cause more harm than good while ‘helping’ others.

Think about leaving children or other people large amounts of money, either via an estate or even a ‘trust held until adulthood’ type scenario etc. Giving anybody a large amount of resources that they’re not sufficiently prepared for is genuinely a potential danger due to likelihood of gratification. For those with a genuine and edifying love of their beneficiary, often it’s less about decreasing the potential for wasting the resource, and more about decreasing the potential for wasting the beneficiary, or in other words: minimising their potential for self-harm through unrestrained indulgence, and maximising the likelihood of them benefiting from the disciplined and effective utilisation of the resource.

Letting the unprepared or unqualified ‘go nuts’ with any substantial quantity of resources, is insufficiently likely to be in their favour. Perhaps the best measure of resource acquisition being in one’s favour is when they legitimately earn it themselves. When it’s not gifted at all. When it comes to estate planning, it’s very possible that the best gift you can give your children is ‘nothing at all’, by way of large sums of money etc. Money can obviously be a great tool to those who can be trusted to utilise it effectively, but for most people there’s likely many alternative tools we can gift our loved ones that have a greater chance of edifying them, than money. Training, education, connections, stories, quality relationships, empowering memories and bold invitations are some examples of things that could very well do them a great deal more good.

It’s not just estate/financial planning though. How many parenting goals or life objectives are about providing more resources to our children than we had, so as to at least theoretically make their lives better than our own? But what if that’s just handicapping them? What if the greater probability is an increased limitation on their ability to achieve successes without such ‘aids’? What if they’ve proved through the expenditure of their current excess and lives that they’re more committed to gratifying than edifying themselves? The increased surplus we provide them is like pouring fuel on their already existing self-destructive fire. It can obviously be worse than giving them nothing at all because at least nothing doesn’t fuel their gratification.

Some studies evidence the argument I’m regularly making that increased mental health issues in first world locations can be attributed to a failure to effectively utilise their larger available surplus. In short, the easier life is, the greater the surplus and in turn, the more likely we’re going to gratify ourselves. Therefore when going about trying to help others, we should of course ensure we’re not just increasing their capacity to further self-gratify.

Now, not giving people what the want when they’re pursuing gratification is much more difficult when they can’t distinguish the two themselves. Remembering that the more engaged the individual is with gratification the more blind they are. It’s very easy for such people to look at your refusal to give them what they’re asking for or even sometimes to give them anything at all, with contempt. Most of us appreciate the benefits of teaching a man to fish instead of just giving him fish, but perhaps to a greater extent we fail to appreciate when it’s helpful to refuse offering a fish when they refuse to learn how to fish. Certainly, if you’ve got a fish surplus you can freely offer more even to those who refuse to learn, but a common reality is the expectation and sometimes even the demanding of ‘more’ from those who can only offer it from their function. 

Angry blinders

A painfully common example of this is easily seen in heated arguments. In such circumstances it becomes easy for one or multiple parties to quickly start feeling a need to defend themselves from some kind of injustice. Such feelings are often accompanied by an urgency to set the record straight, justify one’s position or question the integrity/quality of one’s accusers etc. That feeling of urgency, albeit far more smokescreen than reality, feels real at the time and often leads to the even encircling trap of unhelpful debate. More and more unrelated and irrelevant ‘variables’ enter the discussion while less and less of the responses clarify or conclude the primary variables already presented.

Although far more easily identifiable retrospectively than while actually engaged in the heated argument, it is certainly gratifying to continue fuelling arguments that are unhelpful. Insatiability is a prime sign of gratification. Despite that reality, in the moment, we can genuinely feel a very real craving, a desperate need, to push on, and continue digging/throwing dirt, for countless reasons. Perhaps we think our honour needs to be defended. Perhaps we feel someone needs to be put in their place. Maybe it’s an issue that has been ongoing for far too long and the breaking of the camel’s back is seen as the desperately longed for opportunity to finally address and resolve it. Whatever the reasoning, there’s going to be at least some degree of truth to it. However, the validity of the argument doesn’t justify being unhelpful or making the situation worse.

In order to resolve any problem in an edifying way that involves multiple people has to include at least some degree of cooperation from each party. The more cooperative they are, the more likely the issue is going to be resolve and the better off everyone involved is going to be for having run the process of resolving the problem. The less cooperative one or multiple parties are, the more unnecessary pain, agitation and work is going to be experienced in due process.

Most of us however, despite periodically entering stages of hostility, defensiveness or being uncooperative, we also, in nearly every single case, exit such states. If that’s true (and yes, I’m saying very blatantly that it is), then despite the desperate need we may feel at the time to ‘rage on’, all of the issues we have can still be addressed in the future, even if not addressed immediately. We don’t have to resolve everything immediate and sometimes it’s even more helpful to take a break even when we haven’t yet resolved anything.

Leaving people believing something we know to be wrong, allowing the unjust to continue on without being made just, permitting our ego or integrity to be tarnished without retaliation or defence, are actually all experiences we can survive, just fine. In fact, I argue that in nearly all cases we’re not even nearly as ‘worse off’ as we feel we will be and in just as many cases, letting such battles die at the cost of keeping ‘helpful discussion’ alive, is going to be a far better choice.

To those who don’t record, track and revisit old issues (in helpful ways), this can be an extremely difficult choice to make at the time. To those who do, this becomes an extremely easy choice to make. When past discussions and experiences have proven that we can later return to a helpful discussion with the relevant parties, no matter how ugly the current discussion has become, it becomes immensely easier. Evidencing once more the importance of the infinite lists and regular review systems like a daily foundation.

Whether it’s us or others, heated arguments contain a minefield of opportunities to see people clawing after gratification. People insisting their present needs be prioritised even in unhelpful environments where the process of doing so is of no benefit to anyone. The reality is, anger is one of the most gratifying emotions and therefore blinding, making it a struggle to clearly see what we actually want, becoming overly fixated on things that provide no long-term gain. ‘Helping’ people who are fixated on gratification, just isn’t helpful.

Beware the flood

Anger isn’t the only thing swapping our edifying dinner plate out for a bewilderingly attractive bowl of addictive dog food though. No. In our modern culture, speaking mostly for first world locations, there’s an enormous variety of persuasions flooding our daily lives both intentionally and unintentionally providing us with standards and expectations. We’re constantly being told all of the things we should want. It is a largely honest mistake that nearly all of us make in being unaware or unable to differentiate between what we’re told we should want, and what we actually want.

I would be very interested to know what percentage of people have taken the time throughout the entirety of their lives to sit down and thoroughly evaluate the potential ideal outcomes of their own life. The things that will matter most to them in the long run, the things that they would want most. Furthermore, amongst those who have, how many sufficiently repeat the process frequently enough to make it a reality? I would bet the former are very few in number and of that number, the latter are even more rare.

If I’m correct, then that leaves the vast majority of us spending the far too much of our lives likely in subconscious pursuit of whatever the ever-changing current meta is, even though it’s far too likely to be some kind of gratification. Essentially, we’re living from distraction to distraction. We’re convinced to digitally ‘check in’ with our social circles every spare minute we have, where as soon as we arrive we begin being sold the latest controversial hot topic or meaningless drama, being spoon fed enough dopamine that when we finally get off we’re even more desperate to return once the next free minute comes along, despite the periodic flashes of reality that most of us share where we at least temporarily see how obvious it is that we gain no value from fishing in that pond. Life goes on and we forget, distracted sufficiently once more to spend our next free minute casting once more into the black hole.

Very few of us set out with any kind of goal to find these music videos, prank wars, make-up tutorials, tik-tok trends, or game guides etc. In many cases we were just looking for something interesting, or to be momentarily entertained, a ‘mental snack’ if you will. Just as the body hungers for food, we should be giving consideration to our body’s internal needs as we respond to that hunger instead of just scoffing our faces until the hunger is silenced. Reality however, is that we’re scoffing. Physically and mentally. Enough to silence the hunger and once more be distracted by something else.

So what is the actual hunger, for? What are we really craving? Is it distraction? Escape? Pain relief? Help? Meaning? Value? Connection? Acceptance? Truth? Love? Long fresh-cream doughnuts? All of the above and more? Considering how often these opportunities present themselves in our daily lives, I’m not sure identifying the core need is as important as habitualising the identification process so that we are at least regularly trying to be conscious of our driving needs and forces. Just like there’s a wide variety of nutrients we should be putting on our physical plates based on our fluctuating needs, mental, spiritual or emotional ‘plates’ are likely to require a similar approach.

When our spouse asks about how our day was, is she usually interested in getting a copy of our scheduled events, or is there something else she’s really craving for? If referring her to the already shared digital calendar happens to produce a seemingly ungrateful ‘look’, it may just be the ‘something else’. When kids are bored, when clients or employers are stressed, when colleagues are blunt, they each just might come straight up to you and ask for help, but what we all tend to do when we need help is, aim for the quick-fix hunger silencer. So we might hear things like “Can you get off your phone?”, “Can I play Minecraft?”, “Can’t you make this a priority?”, “Who didn’t clean the microwave?” when the most helpful response you can give might have absolutely nothing to do with phones, Minecraft, priorities or microwaves.

Yes we are all the individual most responsible for ourselves and ensuring whatever hunger we’re currently trying to satiate is edified and not gratified, but the reality however is that helping each other is often both more easily edifying and more edifying than helping oneself, so appreciating that ‘too often, we all default to gratifying habits’ can allow us to see countless opportunities to help others not just in the way they’re directly asking, but being aware of and also responding to the underlying need.

Replace the flood

Those who fail to consciously choose their life’s benchmarks will most likely end up subconsciously utilising the unhelpful and gratifying benchmarks sold to them by the culture that floods their life. We do however have a very large and direct capacity to manage, replace and filter those benchmarks. Yes of course we should be doing so for ourselves but it’s arguable as or even more important that we exemplify doing it well for the sake of others, and of course helping them do the same for themselves. The extent to which we can do so is going to be largely determined by the priority order of the individual within one’s circles of stewardship. Yes, everyone around you can benefit but those closest to you, those more directly within the reach of your stewardship, are going to have the greatest opportunity to benefit from your example and assistance.

The more time someone spends with us, the more capacity we have to influence them for good. This includes to what extent our culture’s ‘flood’ has influence over them. We can minimise their exposure, which can be helpful, but much more importantly we can provide them the tools and perception required to effectively filter that flood themselves, and proactively abide their own consciously selected benchmarks and truth.

Children are often one of the best examples of this. As kids, whatever was common place in the home we grew up in, was our ‘norm’. Weetbix, cartoons, music in the bathroom, rage, engaging debate, meat n 3 veg, painting, footy, useless arguing, kindness, chocolate coconut balls, venting, laps around the block, sogboc holidays, doritos for afternoon tea, watching TV from the hallway, Jomeoin, or vacuum cleaner haircuts. Kids are extremely malleable and even though it may feel like we, as parents, are constantly struggling to maintain some particular benchmark, like daily family time, the expectation of its existence in their ongoing lives can be so firmly pressed that life doesn’t feel normal without it.

A problem with this reality however, is that without conscious management of our own benchmarks, we allow unhelpful ones to creep in and if they’re allowed to stay while raising our kids, problems we never had as a kid can become the new standard of expectation for our own. Contention, fear, short fused anger, crippling sadness, obsessive behaviours or painful habits, can all become ‘instilled’ in our children if we don’t consciously and consistently root them out of ourselves before/during their upbringing. It’s all to easy to ‘settle’ for ‘surviving’ because we’re too because to make the switch to pro-actively steering our lives, but the ‘benchmark norms’ we instil, encourage or permit to rule the lives of those in our stewardship, are our responsibility.

The struggle to live benchmarks higher than our current ability is an essential part of life for anybody trying to make the most out of it. Within that struggle, no matter how difficult, we have the capacity to establish more helpful norms for others, and with that higher expectation comes an increased capacity to ‘see’ how good it can be. How easy it is. How much a part of daily living, it is. What ‘norms’ do we want for our children? What norms are already in play but that we want to get rid of? Do you take time for each other? Is there common resentment between you and your wife? Do you exercise together? Would you rather avoid family gatherings? Do you work as a team? Do you eat well? Is your entertainment filterless? Do you read together?

Because it can be so difficult to maintain our desired benchmarks sometimes, don’t think it’s wasted. Each investment improves the quality of life expected by those around us, and in turn invites them to improve their own benchmarks with the privilege of doing so on frameworks we’ve already begun to establish to one degree or another.

Appreciate that although the edifying benchmark of life we struggle so separately to maintain and habitualise may never feel like it’s become our nature to the extent we want it to, our kids know no different and have that new/increased/improved benchmark as their staple. As I learn how to incorporate edifying habits in my and our daily lives, you much more easily carry those into your adulthood, where you can establish/improve upon your benchmarks even more. My fight to improve my own nature can in deed establish your nature, the things you do ‘by default’, the way you automatically behave, allowing you to reach greater heights with a superior starting/vantage point than I had growing up. The benchmarks I’ve worked hard to establish for you, can be built upon by yourselves to pass on even better benchmarks for your children.

Allow gratification for purchasing power

This this area particularly, I confess to have an insufficient experience base to make a confident conclusion on what’s best practice, but allow me to explain the concepts as I see them, allowing you to use the tools as you will.

I unquestionably believe that there are times where refusing to help by giving someone what they’re directly asking for, is the best approach. There are many instances where giving them what they want is very obviously only contributing to their detriment and one should insist on contributing no more. I also believe that in such circumstances the individual requesting/needing help might not allow or appreciate any other kinds of help, and even in such cases, not helping can remain the best approach.

However, on the other side of what seems to be the same coin, there is a window to edifyingly help somebody that can only be opened by first, at least, ‘allowing’ them to gratify themselves. A common phrase illustrating this is “letting them learn the hard way”. Sometimes there’s just no substitute for experience and sometimes we just utterly refuse to learn things by any means less costly. In such cases I’ve found that there remains some options available to retain a decent amount of confidence that helping the individual gratify themselves temporarily is going to at least end up being edifying to some extent.

Even when we don’t agree with what they’re trying to do and they’ve refused to trial the more edifying options that have been explained to them and there remains in us sufficient surplus to still be helpful ourselves, we can walk the valley with them. Respecting their choices, even when you don’t agree with them, especially to the extent of being willing to wear the cost of those choices, even when you don’t agree with them, is in fact a ‘purchasing power’. Similar to that discussed in ‘function & excess’, we have the capacity to ‘buy’ the function of others using our ‘surplus’. Particularly when the aforementioned criteria has been met, people who are allowed to clearly see through your example that you’re willing to suffer alongside them, especially when the suffering is voluntary and more so when it’s due to their decision that you advised them against, you can earn, you can ‘buy’ some degree of willingness from them, to begin trialling the aforementioned edifying alternatives.

Yes, there is a chance of wasted investment if the other individual still refuses to utilise that opportunity. It remains my opinion however that the investment is to provide them ‘the opportunity’ and is not guaranteed. This is one of the reasons the investment needs to come from surplus, not one’s own function. Point being, one usually only needs to be willing to do this once or twice before the other person is willing to give your advice serious consideration, but the objective here is to become someone constantly capable and willing, so as to be able to continually provide this opportunity to as many people around them as possible, as often as possible. Even if we don’t agree with their strategy or opinion, prioritising a respect of their choices and demonstrating a capacity and willingness to walk with them even if it’s going to cost you both, is going to be more helpful than just telling someone they’re wrong and walking away, or insisting on arguing about it, even if you’re right.


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