When NOT to give
If you walked past a dog, barely moving, so skinny you could count every rib, its fur falling out… or even worse, replace the dog with a six year old child… surely you would not stop and say, “I read a blog the other day that suggested that helping can cause more damage than good, so excuse me…” and walk off! Surely, Jesus was not mistaken, when he told the parable about the Good Samaritan. Was his point not that we should help those in need?
The heading of this blog, even though in the negative, suggests that there is a time that we can give and help those in need. To get this timing right however is crucial and will determine whether your helping contributes to the disastrous interventions we see around us, or actually make a difference. Oh, and no more hiding behind, “I am not giving any hand-outs but only support charities,” because if you are giving to a charity that has their timing wrong, you are contributing on a big scale! This post aims to inform you about the four levels of intervention, to help you make better decisions wit greater results.
More and more, those that study interventions, tend to speak of four different levels of intervention, each with its own place, purpose and duration. In the diagram below, you will see that relief or what I like to call disaster management is short… very short. It can take a few hours or in big disasters like earth quakes or tsunamis a couple of weeks. Relief is that very first thing you do when you discover a disaster. When walking past the animal or child described above, relief would mean to phone animal rescue or an ambulance. If there was an earthquake, it would be to find survivors, erect tents for accommodation, and give lots of hand-outs in the forms of food, clothing, medical attention. Relief work is hand-out time, because if you don’t, people die. But after the survivors are found, received medical aid, a food parcel for the day and a safe place to sleep for a night or two, the next phase, rehabilitation commences.
Rehabilitation is also a fairly short process, and the question is, “how can we get the person to a place where they can get on with their life?” Insurance companies help with this a great deal and so does government, for those without insurance. In the Western Cape, if a large fire sweeps through an informal settlement, the government provides tin sheets and some wood for residents to construct shacks to live in again. This is rehabilitation, which also lasts only for a very short duration, and is aimed at helping the victims of a disaster to get back on their feet to where they were before the event occurred.
Then comes the big one, development. Here the focus is to now take a person, that only survives, to thriving! Development happens on a deep psychological level. Those familiar with Maslow’s theory will know that development is about the connection between people, the belief that one can achieve and become independent and resilient.
And lastly, we have transformation (self-fulfilment needs)…this in fact is a permanent state that calls for maintenance and should last, unless something happens that places the person in a state where relief, rehabilitation or development is needed.
THIS IS SO IMPORTANT – to apply a relief intervention in a situation where development is actually needed, causes regression and a state of paralysis. For example, when you give a person food, money or clothes when the person is not in need of relief, but rather development, you have caused damaged to his development and have taken him/her a few steps back in life. The psychology behind it is very simple. The Pacific Institute, that studies thinking patterns and the performance of people, describe the Self-talk Cycle as a process where what you tell yourself (your current thoughts), builds your self-image that makes you act or perform in a specific way. Your performance affects the way that you speak to yourself, building your self image etc, forming a cycle that makes you better or worse in a specific area…ever hear that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? It’s this principle that the self-talk cycle proves.
Let’s take a look at how this plays out. A beggar, most likely because of many events and circumstances in his life, stands next to the road with a sign, “Please help, my children don’t have food and sleep with empty stomachs.” What caused him to get up in the morning and decided to stand at the traffic light (performance) is the low valued image he holds of himself which has been created by the way he speaks to himself (self-talk) which is most likely something along the lines of, “I can’t do…I’m not not qualified to…I don’t deserve…I’m not worthy…” The moment you stop, turn down the window and give that R5, and the words, “thank you boss” leave his mouth, you have just confirmed his thinking process, helping to build his image of worthlessness. You have stolen the thing he wants most (dignity) and contributed to this cycle he finds himself in.
How do we know if this man is in a stage of “relief” or in a stage of “development?” How do we know what intervention is needed? There are a few simple ways to determine this:
* Sensory Clues: Have you heard or seen any news about an earthquake, tsunami or raging fire? Is the person half-dead or blood streaming out of his ears? If not, then relief intervention is not needed, neither rehabilitation…the person most likely needs intervention aimed at their development.
* Common sense: According to the MRC, only 1.1% of people die of protein-energy malnutrition in South Africa. These deaths often occur in cases when mothers don’t breastfeed their children or in old people without care. The fact that the guy is able to stand and hold his sign, shows that he is not in this 1.1% group. In fact we generally believe that people cannot survive without food. If his children had no food, they would be dead! So the fact that he has children, says that they are eating. They are also not even extremely underfed…because generally, social workers remove neglected children. So just a little common sense will tell us that since he is standing and has children, relief is not the need, but development.
* Really care: If you really care…then take care. Make sure that by giving that R5 you are not just trying to make the guy go away or to wipe away your guilty conscience. Make your help about the other person. Build a friendship with this person, a real friendship. Go and visit him at his home, meet his wife and children, chat, laugh and cry with them. Give it a few months of getting to know him, and I guarantee that you will know if relief or development is needed. If you do care, and are up for the challenge, but it feels very daunting, chat to the LifeXchange team so that they can tell you more about their brilliant online training, taking baby steps with you wherever you are and support you throughout this exciting journey!
In my nearly 18 years of being involved in various interventions, from youth groups, school interventions, night shelters and even working with gangsters, I have seen that when I act as a relief worker, jumping in to save the day, when the day does not need any saving, I caused disaster. From the many, many young men and women and beggars at the robots I found job opportunities, 0% could keep them! By handing the job out to them, I just helped with their belief that they cannot get it themselves. For the few that I really journeyed on the painful road of development, 100% are still employed, some being senior managers in companies and some, even though losing their jobs for whatever reason, managing to find themselves new ones.
So, think before you give. In fact, think and decide now how you want to go about helping those in need. If you have pre-determined your generosity, you will find it much easier to have perspective in that moment where a gut-wrenching sob story (that isn’t true) arrests you for a second and causes you to affirm an untruth about the person selling it to you. There is a better way to do charity that will really change this country of ours!