- Dr. Lalit Chawla
E#19:Helping vs. Enabling-A Life Lesson
This episode is all about understanding how much help is enough and when does it hold people back. Sometimes helping is hurting, or is it?
Welcome to this week's quick episode and thank you for listening and your support. I'm so grateful for all the personal messages and calls I get, so thank you.
Let's get into it, I was talking to a good friend of mine last week, and I was telling him a story that my father told me, and my friend said: "you have to put that story, and other truisms that your father has said, in one of your podcasts." I told him, "well, I do mention some of my dad's thoughts in my podcast when it's relevant," but he said, "you have to share this one about the hand and fist." So based on his suggestion, I'll share that particular one with you; and by the way, I would also love to hear from you- things you may have learned from your dad, mom or grandparents that stuck with you. Send me an email at email@example.com; I'll put a link in the show notes.
So, the one that I'll share with you today is the one that I heard from my dad when I was about 20 years old, and it has still stuck with me decades later. And by the way, my dad died in 2011; otherwise, I'd have asked him to do it. Anyway, he was teaching me the difference between enabling people and helping people.
"Son, there's a difference between helping and enabling someone, and that difference can be hard to understand and manage.
He said, "Son, there's a difference between helping and enabling someone, and that difference can be hard to understand and manage. Let me explain; say you were financially better off than I was, and we were friends. Say you found out I was struggling financially, and we were chatting. And you felt generous and said, "here's 100 dollars or whatever amount you wanted to give me. Initially, I would most likely say 'no, I'll figure a way out', and my hand would be closed fisted. You might insist, and I would insistently say 'no.' Now suppose you persist and pried my fingers open and put that 100 dollar bill in my hand. Eventually I would take that 100 dollar bill out of personal need or because of our friendship.
Now let's say this happens a few more times as you express your generosity to me by giving me more money and you open my fist and put the money in my hand. Now each time you do that, you may feel good about what you're doing, but more importantly, my hand opens up more easily after each encounter. Given enough time, my hand will remain open and then it will be me coming to you for more money. I will expect it from you without any thought. Essentially, you've become an extension of my financial resources with no accountability.
Given enough time, my hand will remain open and then it will be me coming to you for more money
You've now enabled me instead of genuinely helping me. You're disabling me in the long run. Your helping is hurting.
Listen, son, I'm not saying don't give; it's good to help people because if you can help and are in a privilege to help someone, you should. But be mindful and cautious that you aren't enabling them in a way that's disabling them. Finding balance is the key.
Always teach a man to fish instead of catching a fish for them every time. Teach them a skill they can use and become better. Plant a seed that gives them the gift to grow independently. "
I'm not saying don't give; it's good to help people...but be mindful and cautious that you aren't enabling them in a way that's disabling them.
So I share that piece of wisdom with you. It's something I think about when trying to figure out how much I should do for others. Whether it's my kids, and letting them struggle through the learning process. Making sure I don't do their homework or when I am conversing with a patient and trying to figure out ways that will enable them to think and solve problems independently. I use it personally too when I am going into situations and I ask myself, 'have I consciously or unconsciously let someone disable me and it is me who's coming with my hand open? Do I need to learn a skill so that I can function with greater grace and efficacy at work, home or other activities that I do?'
So that's it, the open and closed hand story. Something that stuck with me and a lesson I'll pass on to my children. I hope this story can serve you when you are deciding how much or how you can help someone to live better. Are you helping them by teaching a skill vs. just throwing money or a pill, if you're a clinician, at their problem or situation?
Because of that story, I do more volunteer more of my time vs. strictly just donating monetarily, which is important, and something that I still do, but if I can help with a skill, then that's worthwhile.
Teach them a skill that they can use and become better.
You know I would love to hear your stories, truisms, metaphors that have served you and would love it if you shared it with me. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I'm Dr. Lalit Chawla and thank you so much for listening. Let's together make a greater, more effective community and inspire people to live with Greater Harmony, Joy and Magic in their lives.
Have a fantastic week!