I was born and raised on a small farm in Central Saskatchewan. It was a mixed farm on which we raised chickens, ducks, geese, cattle and grew and harvested various grains. As kids, we were, of course, curious about everything in that great big, wide, wonderful world around us, and that included the our close association with the livestock and fowl that we raised. On one occasion, my brother and I watched as a nest of chicken eggs were in the process of hatching. One chick inside an egg had just begun to crack its shell, so we decided to help out and save the little fella the effort of pecking through the shell by carefully peeling back the pieces of shell that were obstructing its ultimate release.
Unfortunately, our desire to help the chick seemed to have a negative effect on the chick. Although it appeared active, alive and healthy while it was still struggling in the shell, within minutes of us freeing it, it died! That little experience taught me a lesson, a lesson that’s stayed with me even to this day: when do you help someone, and when do you leave a person struggle to freedom on their own accord.
Unfortunately, government agencies can be among the worst offenders when it comes to determining what is true compassion, and what is just “going by the book“: not knowing when to help –that is, do something for the person that they are quite capable of doing for themselves, and when to genuinely offer help. I don’t think there are any accurate government statistics available as to how many people these agencies actually do help, and how many have turned into disasters, as facts about disaster situations, I’m sure, would have been fudged enough to hide the truth by department heads responsible.
Most church organizations also have a compassionate branch within their organization. Again, it would be near impossible to find accurate statistics as to how many persons were actually helped, and how many were just enabled to continue in their lifestyle. Also, there’s the problem of defining what actually defines help: one person’s claim to having been helped can be another person’s denial of ever having receive any help at all. I’ll give you an example.
Some years back I was invited to have a say in a church group where one of its department mandates was to oversee the distribution of disaster and welfare funds. When I was first asked to join the council, I had visions of doling out welfare to pretty well everyone who asked for help, much like, many years earlier, my brother and I had tried to help that poor chick enter our conscious world. Help is help, right? But, it didn’t take long for me to learn that, for charity to be truly charity, wisdom must also be applied along with compassion when doling out help, especially financial help. I discovered that several families and individuals had joined our church simply on the grounds that they knew we had a generous welfare program, and they wanted in on the helpings.
Not that our Bishop had reservations, nor lacked compassion about signing church-funded cheques to these families and individuals, but these families had already exhausted all government and other agency entitlements for help and now wanted to see how far they could play on our good will. These poor souls had adopted a lifestyle that depended on the goodness of others, without making any effort to help themselves.
Although we did close our cheque book on them, we offered council, both legal, if required, a healthier lifestyle, job opportunities, companionship and friendship, whatever was required. A few, as soon as they saw the cheque book close, left to seek handouts elsewhere, but others grasped at the more inclusive help that we offered.
I grew up in a family that placed a high value on the Christian concept of charity. ” [if I] have not charity, I am nothing”. –1 Corinthians 2.
It is true, One cannot help another without helping oneself! And, it is also true that a wise person must be compassionate enough to know just how to best help a person. Throwing money at them is not always the best kind of help that one can offer.