The Paradox of Helping

Feeling pretty chuffed that Rob Sams asked me to share this:

First published here: http://dolphyn.com.au/the-paradox-of-helping/

The Paradox of Helping

imageI had the privilege of attending the Lifeline Brass Blokes Awards in my hometown of Newcastle last night. The Awards recognise the spirit of ‘blokes’ who have been through adversity yet still find the time, courage and inspiration to give back to their community. As well as celebrate these men, the event raises awareness of men’s mental health and suicide, plus raises funds for Lifeline Hunter Central Coast. It was a special night.

One of the unique features of the awards was the ‘entertainment’. It involved a panel(in this case Mark Hughes, Kurt Fernley and Nic Newling) discussion where a few invited guests talked through their own experiences in dealing with adversity and how they gave back to their community. You may not be surprised why these awards appealed to me.

During the panel discussion, a comment by Nic really struck a chord with me. When asked about ways that we can ‘help’ someone with a mental health problem, he suggested listening is key. The secret he said was not to try to sort things out for the other person, instead focus on being present and attentive to the other person’s situation and focus on listening.

Could it be that listening is one critical skill that we all need to focus on if our aim is to ‘help’ others? What lessons could we take from Lifeline about how to best help someone in a time when life doesn’t feel worth living anymore?

This got me to thinking further about what does it mean to ‘help’? Could what we think is ‘help’, actually be quite the opposite for those we think we are helping? What if our ‘help’ made things worse? What may be the outcome if we impose our ‘help’ on others who are not seeking the type of ‘help’ that we are offering? If we constantly focus on fixing other peoples problems, could it have the effect of contributing to their pain, as they feel helpless to fix things for themselves? Further, what could it mean for the resilience of others if we constantly impose our ‘help’ on them?

The Paradox of Helping.

I had some good conversations last night, none better than with my friend John who has many years experience ‘helping’ others in this situation and knows a thing or two about what others may need in a time of despair. John is also a believer that listening can be the greatest help that you could give someone, especially someone contemplating suicide.

One of the most challenging questions John and I tackled was “could committing suicide be the best outcome for someone”?

To even contemplate this question, perhaps one needs to first accept the paradox, complexity and messiness of life, and more importantly consider the question from the perspective of others, not self.

The answer that I suspect most people would respond with is a resounding no. How could someone taking his or her life be anything but bad?

What if we thought about this in a different way? A way focused on better understanding other people instead of imposing our own values, and controlling them? What if the only real decision that person felt like they had control of, was the decision to take their own life? Could at least being in control of that decision be better than living a life of despair, anger, guilt, pain and/or suffering? Of course, the reality is that we could never know the answer to this question, and I suspect, nor can the other person.

The Paradox of Helping. How can we ever really know what is the best ‘help’ for others?

Could it be that if our agenda is for others to be free (of guilt, anger, pain and despair etc…) that we need to reject the urge (and seduction) to impose our own values, beliefs and control onto them and instead, feel comfort that others are making decisions for themselves? Of course, when we understand the paradox of helping, we recognise that this may cause pain for us in doing so.

Do we try to ‘help’ at all cost because the pain of not helping (e.g. suicide) is too much for us to deal with, rather than considering what is best for others? This is such a challenging situation to consider, and I suspect one that is counter intuitive for most of us. I understand this. I don’t want anyone I know to die, but I do want people to be free to live and make their own decisions. The Paradox of Helping?

I can’t imagine the pain, suffering and anguish that someone who is considering taking their own life may feel, I imagine there is no pain like this in living. Consider how someone who is feeling this pain may feel if they constantly sense they needed to be ‘fixed’. Isn’t their pain enough already?

Imagine being in a situation where you were contemplating ending your life because you felt there was just nothing else that could be done to deal with your pain. Then, in a last desperate attempt to reach out, you pick up the phone. At the end of the line is someone who is there to listen and ‘meet’ you. Not to fix you, just to listen. The listening may just be the ‘help’ you are after.

Maybe the listening doesn’t fix the situation you are in. Maybe the source of your pain and suffering continue. But if you have someone who can hear your story, without judgment and opinion, maybe (and of course, it has to be maybe, as there is no certainty in life), that is enough ‘help’ to get you through that terrible moment of loneliness and pain?

I find these tough questions. I suspect that if I was faced with the question that John and I talked about last night just a few years ago, that my answer and my thinking, would be very different.

For those of us who love to talk and spark up a conversation, perhaps being conscious of listening more is the critical if we are to truly ‘help’ people.

Perhaps so to is, understanding The Paradox of Helping?

If you are in a situation where you would like someone to listen without judgment and opinion you can call Lifeline on 131144. They may not be able to ‘fix’ your situation, but that’s probably not what you need or want, you probably just want someone who will listen to, and ‘meet’ you.

If you’d like to support Lifeline deliver it’s vital and important services, why not join their 8 for a Mate program?

The Paradox of Helping, what does this mean for you?

As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and comments.

Rob Sams
Rob Sams

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Rob Sams
Rob is an experienced safety and people professional, having worked in a broad range of industries and work environments, including manufacturing, professional services (building and facilities maintenance), healthcare, transport, automotive, sales and marketing. He is a passionate leader who enjoys supporting people and organizations through periods of change. Rob specializes in making the challenges of risk and safety more understandable in the workplace. He uses his substantial skills and formal training in leadership, social psychology of risk and coaching to help organizations understand how to better manage people, risk and performance. Rob builds relationships and "scaffolds" people development and change so that organizations can achieve the meaningful goals they set for themselves. While Rob has specialist knowledge in systems, his passion is in making systems useable for people and organizations. In many ways, Rob is a translator; he interprets the complex language of processes, regulations and legislation into meaningful and practical tasks. Rob uses his knowledge of social psychology to help people and organizations filter the many pressures they are made anxious about by regulators and various media. He is able to bring the many complexities of systems demands down to earth to a relevant and practical level.

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