Some thoughts on helping, and “helping”

July 28, 2011

[Prompted by a recent Tumblr reblog by duyukdv (Urocyon here on WP), I’m dragging this old one back up to the top of the timeline. It originally appeared here on February 29, 2008.]


[For a bit more on this delightful topic, see Andrea’s “So-Not-Helpful Fixers and their Malcommendations.” Cheers.]

Everyone wants to appear helpful. Trouble is, rarely are any of us willing to do the extremely hard work of figuring out just exactly what help, if any, is actually needed. And when we fail to prevent our motives from being ruled by the social compulsion to appear helpful [and/or, the drive to promote our own careers … hint, hint], our rationality is invariably compromised by conflicting interests, and we are almost absolutely guaranteed to screw the pooch. In such cases, unless we just happen to get lucky enough to guess right — which is a bit like playing the lottery with someone else’s money — then we are very likely to end up harming the person we’re so hell-bent on “helping,” and perhaps (OMG!) ourselves as well.

Or, to repeat what is rapidly becoming an old saw in my limited repertoire: “Ninety-nine per cent of the art of helping lies in knowing what NOT to do.

But Ego is a Jealous God [as are fame and wealth], and guarding against the corrupting influence of social compulsion and ego-defense is perhaps the hardest work of all. It requires a great deal of time, self-awareness, careful critical thinking and skepticism, and rarest of all, an extraordinary commitment to self-honesty.

But, failing all that, here’s one rule-of-thumb whereby we can help ourselves to, at the very least, do no harm:

If we feel compelled to keep telling people over and over that we’re “only trying to help” … then WE’RE NOT.

This is not some cynical admonition to never try to be helpful — far from it. Rather, we should take these hard realities as a recurring opportunity to carefully examine our own commitment to actually being helpful.

So … there it is.


NYU’s “Ransom Notes” campaign: How Will It Work?

December 18, 2007

[UPDATE: NYU’s controversial “Ransom Notes” campaign has now been officially halted. Huge thanks and congratulations are in order for Ari Ne’eman of ASAN, and everyone in the disability, self-advocacy, and ‘neurodiversity’ communities who pulled together to convince NYU to rethink their approach. Still, there are crucial aspects of our message that have simply not been heard. This must change …]

To family, friends, neighbors, activists, weblog readers, and other fellow travelers on Planet Weird,

The advertising agency BBDO, which represents numerous US and multinational corporations including Pfizer and Glaxo-SmithKline, has produced pro bono a public service campaign, as conceived by New York University’s Child Study Center whose stated objectives include eliminating stigma and promoting awareness of what they call an epidemic of children with psychiatric illnesses.

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Rantlet on white privilege and othering — an excellent article, and my comment

December 17, 2007

First, the article:

None So Blind As The ‘Colorblind’ — by Sean Gonsalves

Not too shabby.

Now for my consequent customary rantlet, as posted elsewhere:

“…white-skin privilege – the privilege of not having to pay a racial tax for the criminal behavior of a few who happen to share the same skin color.”

That’s one of the best in-a-nutshell clarifications of white privilege I’ve seen. Excellent article.

I would add that the popular and shallow “PC” form of “tolerance” is really just another form of “othering,” and a treacherously insidious one at that. It takes the crudest possible stereotype of “racists,” and conveniently supplies the user with an opportunity to proclaim their inherent superiority — “I’m not like those people. I’m better than that.”

(did someone say “shadow projection”?)

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