While I promised to address the problems of Medicare/Medicaid in NH a couple weeks ago, I am going to forego that to discuss a matter that is a necessary detour in this journey: How do we appropriately help “other” people? We all know that we should, but how?
“It is the church’s responsibility to tend to the poor, sick and needy.” “No, it is the government’s responsibility.” “I’m not going to give him money he will just buy a bottle of booze with it…”
It is my brazen contention that your answer to this question will make ripples in history.
This question is more prominent, I think, for those of us who are Christians. After all we have biblical mandates that encourage us to lend a helping hand to those in need. Nonetheless, the conundrum is universal. We all feel the urge to help “others” who are “underprivileged” or “disadvantaged” or “without”.
I believe we can glean some insights from this unfortunate experience in my own life. If nothing else, I think you will come to realize that there are right ways and wrong ways to help those in need.
An Anecdote (this is a true story with fake names to protect their naivete)
Many years ago my kind-hearted college roommate, Scott, brought a guest home from downtown Raleigh. This guest was a homeless man and crack addict who had been living on the streets for the better part of his life. Upon entering our small apartment Scott announced to me and my other roommate, Jim: “I am going to give him [as if he were not standing right there] a warm meal and a bed to sleep on for the night, and then drop him back off downtown tomorrow.”
A kind gesture, right?
I pulled Scott aside out of earshot and said, “I strongly encourage you to keep a close eye on him while he is here.” (I hope you sense the foreshadowing.)
The next morning I awoke early and departed for a long day of work and school.
When I came home that evening, my laptop had mysteriously disappeared from my desk… Of course, I did not want to jump to any conclusions, so I went to Jim to ask if he knew where my laptop was and if he had seen our guest leave. To that he replied: “No… and yeah, he came in here and asked for a book bag. So I gave him my ol’ one that was in my closet.”
To which I replied: “So, let me get this straight, you gave a homeless man, who came into our home with nothing, a bag…” At this point the picture was starting to come together for Jim.
It turned out that our guest, whom Scott was trying to help, decided to take some things with him before he left. Jim gave him a new bag (to store his hot laptop) and Scott gave him a ride back downtown—how nice?! My roommates were literally accomplices in a crime!
The Moral(s) of the Story
1.) Just because you think what you are doing is helping somebody, does not mean it is… Our guest most likely sold the laptop and bought drugs (he told us he was a crack addict). If this is true, neither Scott nor Jim did him any service.
2.) Helping people requires an effort on both parts. It is rarely as easy as it seems. While giving a warm bed and a warm meal or a dollar in a can may be easy (and perhaps a good that God graciously blesses you for because He alone knows your heart) these gifts may not be beneficial to the person in need.
3.) Very often, people you help will take more than you give them or they will not stop taking. You give an inch, they take a mile…
4.) Temporary solutions may offer no long-term resolve!
Our intentions do not produce results, our actions do. The means by which we help people has greater consequence(s) than our good “hearts”. Therefore, we should be careful how we choose to assist those in need. I believe that this principle has broader applications than in our daily lives. It’s application extends beyond the individual into the community and into our society.
Later, we will assess how our society has chosen to “help” those in need.