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the original kStyle blog.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Discussion Question

This has been bothering me lately, and bwilder asked a question on his LJ that made me think of this, so...

How do you know where that line is between helping and enabling? That "teach a man to fish" expression is a good marker, of course...The helping/enabling line can create tension in everything from quotidian life to international politics.

9 Comments:

Blogger Emma Goldman said...

I think the line becomes clearer as the person whom you're helping/enabling doesn't follow through. Here's an example: I worked with someone (the world's most neurotic pain in the butt) who needed to finish her dissertation. Given that I had already done such a thing, we had several conversations about the process, including several that focused on what she needed to do to complete the thing. I didn't tell her what she needed to do; rather, I helped guide the conversation around questions that were relevant--what time of day do you most like to do your writing? what's a reasonable amount of time per day or per week you can devote to this task? are there tasks--like a bibliography--that you can assign yourself when you hit a rough patch of writing? here's a resource for how to get started and get finished with your writing, and so on. After the second or third time we had a version of this conversation, I stopped discussing it with her, and I also stopped listening to her complain. She clearly wasn't working on it, and I got tired of listening to her. (She did eventually finish, but I would not have signed off on the work she produced, were I on her committee.)

4:50 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

That's a good point, a good demarcation. Thanks!

9:30 AM  
Blogger Larry Jones said...

Doesn't "enabling" mean helping someone who is screwing up by covering for him/her, making excuses, deflecting accountability, etc., thus allowing the person to continue screwing up because (s)he doesn't have to face the consequences of his/her actions?

Can I just not do this "him/her" thing, please? It's the guys that are the screwups anyway, we all know that, and the women who enable them. Or don't.

In any case, if this is what you mean by enabling, there's probably a list of sociopathic behaviors in a book that you can refer to, and it's probably pretty short. Off the top of my head I can only think of substance abuse. If you call your husband's boss just once to say he's sick when he's really on a bender, that's enabling.

10:53 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

That's not exactly what I meant. Perhaps I chose the wrong word. (And I don't think it's a gender thing, either.)

It's like, where's that line where you stop thinking, "Hey, this person needs help," and trying to help, and when you say, "Hey, this person is a complainer," or "S/he makes all his/her own problems and is just bringing me into the drama"? I think I have a pretty good sense of boundaries about these things, but it's interesting. I might err a little too far on the side of "whiny complainer shush," because I was raised that way, to a certain extent, with the Catholic We Do Not Complain code. Sometimes I actively must put that aside, and a couple of times I put it too far aside. Life's nothing if not a balancing act.

8:57 AM  
Blogger kStyle said...

I feel like this somehow relates...one of my very brilliant friends is quickly becoming an expert in human rights and international law. And we often discuss Africa, the way Africa is depicted in the news (the horrors! the famine!), the pervading patronizing attitude of the West to that vibrant continent. The US keeps throwing more money at African problems, and that never quite works, and then we wonder WHat The Hell Those People Did with all the money, when, in fact, horrible US-backed warlords are taking all the aid and not distributing it.

So I guess my question is mostly about how hard one should look for the source of a problem. When do you stop saying, there must be a reason that little Jimmy didn't do his homework, and start disciplining Jimmy instead? How can you see that line between an excuse and a reason?

9:03 AM  
Blogger Emma Goldman said...

When I do the guest-speaker thing at smoking cessation classes, the thing out for which I watch is the occasional person who says s/he's having this or that problem, and when I offer a raft of suggestions, has a "reason" why each one won't work--thus making it my fault that the person can't or won't quit smoking. I've learned to tell people that everyone has to figure out what tactics and strategies will work, because the list of what works varies among people. I provide a list of things that worked for me or people I know, including some that are completely contradictory--because, you know, different things work for different people. However! that whole process of figuring out what you need to succeed at this task necessitates that you take ownership of the problem, and, thus, give up your excuses. I think the model works in many situations. If the person either refuses to come up with a strategy for addressing the problem or has an excuse for every thing that didn't work, well, I'm guessing the person is looking for an enabler rather than for genuine assistance, and I decline to play that part.

9:41 AM  
Blogger Larry Jones said...

Somebody like Yoda would say something like You will know the answer when you need to know it, or The answer is within you even now, young kStyle.

But there's nobody like Yoda, is there?

11:55 AM  
Blogger Emma Goldman said...

Except me, of course.

4:27 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

Thanks, Emma and Larry, for your wisdom. I think you are right, I shall know it when I see it. My own advice to myself, about everything, is "meditate to still your mind so that you may see clearly."

9:44 AM  

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