Being Helpful

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.

About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
This entry was posted in culture, Miscellaneous, Panama. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Being Helpful

  1. Anonymous says:

    Don’t stop giving! The Iguanas loved those papaya rhinds! Muchos gracias, mi amiga.🍻


  2. Wow! I am so glad my post gave you food for thought, Kris. I continue to question many of the same things you express in your post. I don’t have any answers. I am still sad, confused, and hurt about losing someone I thought was a friend…almost like family. That with the death of my mother and the pain Chikungunya practically destroyed my sense of giving. I am starting all over this new year…being gentle and caring with myself first. It feels so strange. But, I am slowly getting the hang of it. Hugs from Ometepe and thanks so much for your thought-provoking post.


    • Hugs from David! I’m sorry for your pain but glad to see you are using it to grow and change, and maybe come out better for it in the end. You mentioned that your friend has a history of troubled relationships which says the problem isn’t you, which of course I figured anyway.


  3. ME BE in Panama says:

    Excellent post Kris. You’re absolutely right about female and RN, we’re born givers. I must admit I know I have personally been on the receiving end of your generosity. The information I’ve gleaned from your blog AND the link to Duolingo are priceless to me. I’m sorry for your loss of a good friend. Shalom my amiga


    • Yes, you know what I’m talking about too. As for you, it was fun meeting you and spending time with you, and I’m glad you found the blog and duolingo so useful 🙂 Thanks for your kind comment


  4. cAROLE says:

    I understand also what you mean. I thought I had a friend here. But found out, that was not the case. I kept on giving, she kept on taking. But I found out she was intereste in being my friend. I have to start to be good to myself first and stop giving all I have to try to build a friendship. She wasn’t the friend I thought she was, talking about everyone she met in the negative. I am sure she talked about me as well behind my back. Friendship is hard to find, a good friendship is something to treasure.


    • I’m sorry you had a bad experience. It probably happens to almost everyone at some time or another but it doesn’t make it any less difficult. You are right that a good friendship is something to treasure.


  5. Very insightful post, Kris … I hope we can go to lunch someday, when we finally make it down there in a more permanent basis!


  6. Really wonderful and thoughtful post, Kris. Yes, you must take care of yourself first and replenish your inner well. It is such a fine line and I’ve been there with family members who weren’t in our lives and then come into it to just take. It really hurts and destroys the relationship. ((HUGS)) and Peace and Love to you, my dear!


    • Thank you for your comment. It seems like this sort of thing has happened to so many of us, unfortunately, and it’s painful. But, someone said to me a long time ago that they didn’t want to change who they were, didn’t want to stop being giving and caring just because it went badly sometimes. I thought it was an interesting way to think about it. Thank you for the peace and love, and sending it to you too 🙂


  7. Very thoughtful post, it helped me see more clearly some events that have been occurring in my life, with various individuals.
    Do not stop giving, but take the time to receive also. Become more open to receiving and you may be surprised at what comes your way. IMHO you are just starting to open up yourself from all that became bottled up and life draining from your career as a nurse. You gave so much of yourself that you became depleted of a lot of life energy and you are finally beginning to refill your well. Take time to care for yourself more, continue to give, but also continue to open up to receive. You are an amazing person with all that you have accomplished since arriving in David with a couple of suitcases. Live life to its fullest, just as you have been. Thank you for being here and for allowing us to live with you through your blogs. God Bless!


    • Wow my goodness, thank you for the very thoughtful and kind comment 🙂 It seems we are always works in progress, and sometimes need some directional adjustment. Thank you for your thoughts, and I will work on receiving more.


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