Nominative determinism doesn’t work with Little Miss Helpful; she wants to help but her support is generally unsolicited and misguided. (Whereas Mr Tickle tickles, Mr Happy always has a beaming smile and Little Miss Shy is timid.)
Sometimes I think we (and I mean specifically both followers of Jesus and those of us in the caring and charitable sectors) can be like Little Miss Helpful. There is a danger that our help causes more harm than good.
Sometimes this happens on a large scale such as the response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti (shout out to my genuinely helpful brother-in-law for bringing this to my attention). However, the next paragraph is a summary from a SlideShare by a humanitarian communications and innovation consultant.
Many people travelled to Haiti to help who had no experience and who couldn’t speak the language, they didn’t have the vital ‘back-room’ infrastructure or the basics needed (no accommodation, food, materials or transport), there was no long-term strategy and an influx of unwanted gifts-in-kind (basically junk that was dumped). Volunteers were unprepared: Luege gives examples of a woman arriving in unsuitable designer footwear and another volunteer who arrived without essentials such as soap, believing that such toiletries could be purchased at Port-au-Prince airport. People were recruited with the slogan ‘An Adventure Awaits you in Haiti!’. Aid was concentrated in camps rather than communities which meant that many families (even if they had a home) ‘lived’ in various camps in order to access services.
Often our desire to assist is so great that we don’t take the time to stop and ask what kind of aid would be most beneficial. The help becomes about us and our needs – whether that’s for approval, adventure, a desire to be wanted or a feel-good factor (a warm and fuzzy feeling inside because we’ve done something ‘good’).
It’s crucial we regularly check both our actions and our motivations whether we are helping an individual whom we know (personal gripe – don’t try and offer counselling if you’re not trained!) or we’re moved to help a particular cause, such as refugees or rough sleepers.
We need to determine if our actions are appropriate for the situation, preferably by asking experts in the specific area where we want to help. Are we genuinely helping or making the situation worse? Are we creating people who are dependent on us? Are we helping people live lives of dignity? Are we treating people as objects or ‘the other’? Do we have the necessary skills and experience?
The book Toxic Charity talks about the danger of short-term mission and gives the example of groups of young Christians who travel from the US to Mexico to paint various buildings. While they are painting, the local painters and decorators sit outside with nothing to do! It’s not as exciting to raise funds to pay indigenous tradespeople but in the long-term it’s more valuable to equip and build up others.
It’s so important to be aware of our own personal drivers. We all have needs that are met through donating time or money, but it’s essential to grow in self-awareness so we know what they are – otherwise they will impede the good we want to do. When my service becomes about meeting my craving for approval, then it’s vital I take time to remember it’s not about me and to reflect on my identity as a child of God.
My identity is not ‘Little Miss Helpful’ but ‘Beloved Child of God’.