I have only recently discovered- and rather painfully at that- that help can only be of value if it is given on the terms of the helped not the helper. I find that more often than not, a lot of our ‘good deeds’ serve more to pacify nagging consciences than any true altruistic purposes.

I will give a rather simplistic but very apt example:

Supposing one had a neighbour who lived from hand to mouth- and had only 2 hands but had to feed 6 mouths- and one lived in opulence. Many of us would struggle with a misplaced sense of guilt at the unfairness of this disparity, and try to assuage this guilt by say, giving them foodstuff once in a while or sending them some of our children’s outgrown clothes.

We might have noticed that the son had worn the same pair of trousers to school for the last 3 years despite having grown just as many inches or that they wore the same shoes to church and school everyday. What we may never have bothered to find out was that they were quite content with their threadbare, but decidedly clean, clothes and that they didn’t really mind eating beans for supper every night.

We may not know, because we did not think to ask, that all they really needed was money to fix a leaky roof because it got rather uncomfortable whenever it rained or someone to help baby sit the two youngest children during the week so their mother could attend night classes and finally get a degree.

Sometimes, help rendered on our own terms is no help at all and then we wonder why we don’t get as much gratitude as we think we deserve.

I have reached a resolution: to find out what my beneficiary needs and then try to help in that way. It might not always be convenient to give what is actually needed but then again, giving is not supposed to be convenient either.