Most people find it natural to be helpful. This is very evident here in Panama where being helpful is an integral part of the culture and behavior.
But, my good friend Deb in Nicaragua recently wrote a post about being helpful which got me thinking a lot. Read her post here, please. It is worth the time. She talks about the Savior Complex, and about taking care of yourself. She says her choice of work and her activities in retirement demonstrate that she has this complex, and she has exercised it to the point where she feels very depleted. I have the complex too. I’m a nurse and I retired so burned out that I still think I can’t do any more care taking. But, when I look at my behavior here I do a lot of little things and random acts of generosity that aren’t medical, but still are forms of care taking.
Deb also had a very painful loss of a friendship, a long term friendship where she offered a lot of help and support in many ways over a long period of time. Through her story, others came forward with their stories about people who were helped and then became demanding, cold, or hurtful. I think this is also happening to me, and what I thought was a close friendship has gone silent and cold. Why do these painful things happen? Does helping your friend complicate the relationship? Does it alter the dynamics and balance of a friendship in ways that make it unsustainable?
It’s a complicated and difficult subject. How do you help appropriately? What we think is helpful may in fact not be helpful at all, and we may overlook other things that would be useful because we don’t know better. How do you know if your help is even welcomed? How do you help without making someone dependent or demanding, or without causing them to lose self respect or the motivation to help themselves? There are no easy answers in the best of situations, and when we are in another country and another culture it gets even more complicated.
Friendship can also be more complicated. Even in our own country of origin and culture, friendships often don’t work out. Complicate this with cultural differences, different behavior expectations and ways of dealing with conflict, a different language, an imbalance of resources, a helper/helpee dynamic, and who knows what other factors and it can be very challenging.
I don’t have any answers, just a lot of questions.
For me, I still don’t feel like I can help in any big way. I don’t have the knowledge, wisdom, energy, or inclination. I am happy to give some of my time in friendship or share a surplus of something (limons, anyone?). I have given small amounts of money and loaned money in amounts I could afford to lose, but I am starting to think even this isn’t a good idea. Maybe it is enough to be a good citizen, to interact with kindness, to observe and learn, and to just be.
When I was a nurse trying to convince a patient to accept much needed help from another, I used to tell them about the Buddhist monks and their begging bowls. Of course the monks needed the food, but their main purpose of begging was to give others the opportunity to give because giving is of much more benefit than receiving.
Often we aren’t good at taking our own advice and I am as guilty as anyone. Maybe it’s time I shift my thinking a bit and do more taking. I think as women, and as people in care taking professions it’s very hard for us to take. We have a double whammy of expectations that we give of ourselves, often neglecting our own needs in the process. Maybe the best thing we can do is take care of ourselves first, make ourselves the best we can be, and then hope we have the wisdom and insight to be a positive influence in our world.
The next good thing we can do is decide when there has been enough deep thinking for one day. Cerveza, anyone? 😀 I’m off to relax a bit and enjoy another beautiful Panama evening.