Helping others is a tricky business. On the one hand, you just have to have the intention. On the other, though, how do you know that your ‘help’ is actually helping?
Compassionate intention is the basis for all help. Otherwise, why are you doing it?
If you are only helping to get something back, then you are not helping, you are investing. This is the basis for much economic activity. You can see it sometimes in the political use of overseas funds. You can also see it in conditional relationships.
If you are only pretending to help in order to destroy what someone else has, then you are not helping, you are attacking. This is the basis for oppression. You can see it, perhaps, in interactions between certain countries competing for the same borders, where suppression is dressed up as assistance. You can also see it in abusive relationships.
If you are only helping absent-mindedly, then you are not helping, you are filling up redundant time with mindless activity. This is the basis for indifference. You can see it, occasionally, in traditional fundraising, where it can be more of a ritual than an intentional activity. You can also see it in uncaring relationships.
It’s better not to help through attraction, repulsion or indifference. It’s better, I’d suggest, to help attentively.
As to the second part of the initial question, how do you know that your help is actually helping?
In fact, I don’t think you ever do. There are so many ways in which helping can go wrong, that I am not sure if we can ever help confidently, knowing that the result will be good.It depends, I guess, on what you want for the object(s) of your help.
Let’s suppose for a moment that you are putting others’ happiness at the centre of your plan. There are a lot of ways you can convince yourself you are achieving this:
You could give them money or resources, but you will never be sure that this will increase happiness, since it is evident that people are often wealthy, but unhappy.
You could teach them to manage money or resources, but you will never be sure that this will increase happiness, since it is evident that people are often capable, but unhappy.
You could teach them to do without money or resources, but you cannot even be sure that this will increase happiness, since many people seem able to do without, and yet are still unhappy.
It might be quicker to teach them to be happy.
COMBINING COMPASSION AND WISDOM
Perhaps wise help combines the above two thoughts.
Maybe all we can do is:
Show compassionate intention – help attentively, making sure we are not acting out of attraction, repulsion or indifference.
Show wisdom – help others to be happy whatever their context, and in relation to money or resources, be attentive to the context.
We all regard ourselves as helpful, I am sure.
But we might do well to check what kind of help we offer others.
A really good way of helping, perhaps, is to be attentive, and to share anything that might be valuable in helping others to be happy.
We will never know if we’re really helping, as outcomes are uncertain, but we can try with a good heart.