How Do You Spell (Effective) Relief? (When Helping Hurts – part 8)

Here is how to decide if relief is appropriate.

  1. Relief needs to be immediate. If a person is in the middle of crisis and cannot help himself, an immediate response is crucial. 
  2. Relief is also temporary, providing only during the time that people are unable to help themselves. Yet, determining when to stop relief is never easy. If relief is given for too long, it can do harm by creating dependence. 

Effective Relief needs to be 1) Seldom, 2) Immediate, and 3) Temporary.

So – let's consider three circumstances:

1) Someone begging at the corner. What should you do? Most people ignore them, and perhaps you have felt guilty about that. Perhaps you shouldn't feel guilty about not giving them anything (as long as your heart isn't cold to them). Unless they just lost their house to a flood – they likely don't need relief. In fact, giving them money continues their dependence. And most of them are well-aware of what help is available in our city. I've often struggled with what to do when someone is begging for money or food. I've gone through bad phases (at times I've been cold and judgmental of them). What we typically do is this – I won't give money – ever… But if we have food in the car – from a granola bar to leftovers from dinner, we give them if they want them. Perhaps that isn't best either, but it helps me keep a heart for the poor (at least that's my goal).

2) Someone stops by the church and asks for help. What should we do? We ask them to fill in a benevolence form asking many questions that we can follow up on. We also provide them with a list of places in the city that will give them for free what they are asking for. Sadly, very few will fill out the form and they don't want the help that some great non-profits in the city will provide for them.

3) Someone on a street corner or in a subway who is obviously poor – skillfully plays an instrument. In that situation – that is not relief. That is paying them for a service. I have no problem (and actually enjoy) putting money in the open instrument case of a talented musician. 

In the first two situations – neither have a need that is immediate, seldom, or temporary. That is why – if you choose not to give any money to the person begging at the corner – you don't need to feel guilty about it.  

When relief is desired, but rehabilitation or development is called for – it can be really hard to get people to accept it. People typically want relief – they don't want rehabilitation or development help. Relief requires nothing of the one hurting. Rehabilitation and development is only done in relationship with the one hurting. It isn't done for them or to them. It is done with them. Many don't want to work for their help. And that is often the fault of good-natured people wanting to help.

We have taught those with needs for rehabilitation or development to become dependent on relief. And those providing relief feel better about themselves and create dependence from those who really need development.


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