Helping Versus Harming, the Reality

Updated on October 24, 2017

It’s a fine line

If you’re a person that enjoys helping others, then this distinction is all too familiar. But even when you do so on a regular basis, the difference isn’t always simple to delineate. In fact, I would venture to say that most of the time, the intention isn’t to take advantage of the helper. The person in need of help really does need a hand and wants to run with it subsequently. It’s part of our human nature though to be greedy. Things build momentum like my cat knocking off items on our kitchen table. He starts with a fork, then some mail and next thing you know, he’s cleared the whole table and walks away. Same momentum builds with people asking for help. They ask and you’re happy to help, but also elated that you’re not a loser and someone values your competence enough to enlist your assistance (okay, maybe don’t get too carried away Ferris Bueller). The relationship has this solid advantage of built up momentum and seems that nothing could go wrong. But then, like a fart gone wrong, you realize you’re bailing the person out more than providing a boost, so to speak.

Real life example

The best way to communicate this point is by sharing a story that happened to me recently. One day I was walking by with a Walkman on when I caught guy giving me and awkward eye-WAIT, that’s a lyric to “Forgot About Dre”, sorry about that.

Okay, let’s try this again. One day I was working at my desk and a co-worker came over to ask for some help with a report. Let’s call him Larry David. Larry was struggling to figure out some formulas in excel. I’ve always been comfortable with excel and usually enjoy helping others improve at it. Larry on the other hand was more like my 90-year-old grandmother who still calls her flip phone, the machine. Somehow, Larry made it through college in the recent decade without achieving mastery of copy and paste. I’ve tried to help Larry David learn excel numerous times, but he’s not the best note taker and then also gets cocky super-fast.

The second LD understands what the hell I’m saying, he just goes yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah as to shut me up and imply that I can move on. Sure enough, once he leaves, he returns like someone dropped him on his head and craps out the same line I know you showed me XYZ, but I just don’t get it. After this happens several times, I start to distance myself as I realize Larry David was beginning to use me for his reporting, consequently making him look good. Well, screw that noise LD, you can make your own damn biscuits and gravy. Yup, you’re welcome. I just created a new saying because I love breakfast and metaphors. You can use it, tweet it or just make biscuit and gravy; I’ll appreciate any of the three.

Reversing the roles

I personally don’t like asking for help; it’s often my downfall when working on a project or learning something new. While I believe that it’s important to figure things out on your own, you must know when it’s critical to ask for help. So, what happens when the roles are switched and you’re the one trying to get a boost? There’s no right answer as to when it’s time to spread your wings, but I’ll give you my personal take. I’m a big proponent on being taught how to fish instead of just being fed repeatedly. In fact, it frustrates me like trying not to dry out chicken, when someone does it for me. As soon as I feel a small amount of confidence that I can complete the task, I step on it like Paul Walker-oh dear, too soon?

Now I realize that others may feel more anxious about diving into something new, so the best approach there is to do a combination. Each time the person helps you, make sure you’re taking immaculate notes. Also, make sure you’re paying close attention to the why and how aspects of the lesson, don’t just learn the mechanical aspect. And possibly the most important step, is to ensure your thumb is removed from your blind spot.

Time to cut the cord

Once you identify that you have a class 4 leech, you must break the wrist and walk away (Napoleon Dynamite fans will appreciate that one). But being the standup citizen, you’re averse to hurting their feelings. Reasonable, I’ll concede, but cut the crap and wake up. They sure as heck didn’t feel bad about using you to look good so why stop the trend? You don’t have to be immature about it, just start giving them less help and not disrupting your day to help them. Why should you sacrifice your livelihood because Larry David they can’t go potty by himself?

In summation, be polite and professional, but firm (assuming this is a workplace, otherwise just kick them in the kidneys). If all else fails, a slight whack to the gluteus maximus should shoo the mooch away.

Well, it’s that time again where I cease to care about much else except chasing the mail man and smoking a cigar.

Till next ride


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