Saturday, October 04, 2008

Wanting to Help the Unpleasant

So Imez asked if I wanted to fill people's immediate needs no matter how unpleasant the people may be. Well...not necessarily. The critical factor is time to think. If I have time to think about a situation, I can analyze it to the point that I come back to the root: need. If I don't have a lot of time to think about it, I can quickly justify not assisting someone. (Just saying I can; not saying I always do.)

For instance, if I encounter a person asking for donations at the onramp as I'm heading home from work, I might reason that I'm in a hurry, I don't have a lot of money in my purse, it's not safe to open my window, traffic is moving too fast, that person has been out there for at least three years and what is up with that?...the list of reasons or excuses goes on. If I think about it, though, as I sometimes do after passing the person, I eventually realize that the person wouldn't be standing there if they didn't need help. And then I feel like a bitch for not slowing down and giving them my last two bucks.

But that doesn't really cover the issue of an asker's being unpleasant, I realize. So...hmm. Let me think for a second. Okay. At the church, there was a big, burly guy who used to come in and ask to talk to a pastor. (We sent only male pastors out there because the guy once told us he didn't "do well" with women. Okey-dokey then.) He wanted help. However, he was also aggressive and had an anger issue and was quite capable of really hurting someone. I was more interested in seeing him go away than I was in helping him or even talking with him for one minute. Eventually he started to act entitled and more aggressive and then luckily (for us anyway) he encountered transportation issues and found another church to pursue.

I'm as human as the next person. If someone is too unpleasant, my first reaction is "You know what? GO AWAY." But if I'm dealing with a seemingly harmless homeless guy whose main offenses are coming around too frequently and stinkin' up the joint, then I do feel driven to help. (And, as June said in her comment earlier, I also am fairly sure the guy was going around to lots of other churches for "bus pass money." That doesn't necessarily bother me; I think he's just in really intense survival mode.)

It's hard, though, because I sometimes feel like I'm taking on other people's problems. I do have trouble separating myself from their issues, and I think that works both for and against me. On one hand, empathy and sympathy are great. They motivate me to do good things and they help me understand people. On the other hand, if unchecked, they can lead me to become way too involved, to the point that I forget to help myself.

It's like that commonly used analogy about flying and putting on your own oxygen mask before helping your child (or anyone else) put theirs on. You can't help others unless you're reasonably taken care of. I don't think anyone is ever 100% taken care of, or "full." We just have to be reasonably okay to help someone else. When I was Really Not Okay, I couldn't help people effectively. I just sucked up help from everyone else. It was necessary, but it sure felt crappy.

I don't feel like I'm totally out of the woods yet, but maybe that's a good thing. I'm kind of in an interesting place where I'm reasonably okay and can help some people, but I still need help with some things and that keeps me aware of others' need for help.

Does that make sense? I think I really deviated from the question, but hey, it's early and I have a head full of snot. (See? Excuses.) ;^)

Later, perhaps, thoughts on whether help matters more when given to the unpleasant...