WHEN DID ‘HELPING’ BECOME CONDITIONAL?

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The other day I was listening to a child and their parent. The child, who was about 3 years old, was having a serious meltdown over a meal they did not like. Too much sauce apparently. The parent, trying to remain calm and measured, said “I can help you, I just need to understand why you’re behaving like this”.

The child’s reply, accompanied by an exaggerated display of exasperation whilst pushing through a heartbreaking flow of tears was simply: “But why can’t you just help me?”

At first I thought a) Perhaps I shouldn’t be listening in (not that I had much choice due to the volume) and b) Yeah, just help the kid will ya?

But I’ve been that person. So have you – we all have. Being the calm one among the chaos, trying to tone down the situation and understand what the person’s problem is.

On reflection it struck me that the child was inadvertently demonstrating great wisdom, perhaps opening a window to our factory-default sense of humanity, before we had it trained or drilled out of us in adulthood.

Today we aren’t happy just helping someone – we want to understand the problem to satisfy a secondary need – our own. Mental health, addiction, poverty, unemployment, relationships, the list goes on.

So why don’t we just help?

Because we’ve gradually been corralled into a new version of society where empathy is an industry, and assistance is now more about the giver, and less about the person who needs the help. We expect an explanation of the problem, so we can frame it in a way that makes sense to us, and then validate it as worthy of our help before we will actually give the help.

Does this start with us as individuals, or does it permeate all levels of government during periods of cost-cutting or anti-socialist pressure and then work its way down? Perhaps it’s the result of a combination of underhand-ness and our subsequent complicity.

Regardless, maybe we need to accept that sometimes things just “are”, help is just “needed”, and our “understanding” isn’t as important as we think it is.

Derek Green,
Managing Editor, The Westsider
editor@thewestsider.com.au

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