Helping, without helping too much

Helping people is a good thing, right? We are being taught early in life that you answer “yes, of course” when somebody, anybody, asks for your help nicely. As we get older, wiser, more experienced, it seems only natural that we will be asked for help more often. It can be flattering to find your advice highly sought after. Research shows, however, that both parties in this situation – the helper, and the one being helped – may suffer negative consequences of too much help. I recently experienced this, again, and had to remind myself to say “no”, at least sometimes.

It started as an innocent message from a stranger in a public forum – just a quick question about a little detail of my life that I had shared. I replied, being the well-behaved, educated person I have been taught to be. Big mistake! Could I please answer some more in-depth questions, preferrably via email? Sure – why not, one email doesn’t cost me that much time. It didn’t stop at one email, though. The messages became longer, repeating questions that I had already answered. Would I please attach sample documents to explain what I meant? Oh, and I sent you a “friend request” on Facebook, because I really like you – we have never met in person, mind you.

So, after several months, I find myself researching information on the internet, collecting documentation about my findings, answering highly technical questions with longer and longer emails and messages. It’s starting to feel like a job – except I’m not being paid, or otherwise rewarded. I realized, that I had inadvertently created a dependency. This random stranger stopped doing their own research, learning for themselves. Instead they relied on the newly found “two-legged dictionary” that I had become for them.

No – this stops here! I realize that my experience and detailed knowledge could help others in a similar situation, and I am willing to share – but not to the point where it becomes a job. Sometimes you have to be selfish and put yourself before anyone else. Ignore what society is urging you to do.