One way we can know what is good for people is to sit back and think about what helped us in the same situation. Or if that is not possible to get advice from someone who has been in that situation.
One thing that sticks in my memory about this is a scene from a TV drama many years ago. One of the main characters has a drink problem. they go to the boss and they are quite harsh with them. Telling them to get their act together or there will be consequences. One of the colleagues of the alcoholic is aghast. They thought that as the boss had faced similar problems that they would show some understanding and be lenient with them. The next thing you see is the boss very unhappy and upset about what they have just done. The thing is they knew from experience that the best thing for the person with a problem was to help them face up to it. If that meant forcing them to take the consequences then so be it. It was hard for the boss to be so harsh but he knew that it was the best thing for the person with a problem in the long run.
For many of us, our natural inclination is to be soft with people and do things for them or help them in some way. Yet it is not always the best thing. Think of the person who can do things for themselves slowly but at least they can do it. Someone else comes up and does whatever it is for them. they then lose a bit of their independence. It would be far better to ask someone if they wanted help in that situation than to take away what they wanted to do for themselves.
Putting this into action
These are the sorts of ideas that came to my mind when I had a divine download of what the text in the header was supposed to be. I mean how do you meet the needs of the weak without weakening them further? Then how do you do things to help the poor in such a way that it strengthens them?
It is so easy to offer people a handout and then wonder why they stay weak or even get weaker. On the other hand, it seems cruel to force people to help themselves.
There was a time when the poor were effectively imprisoned in a workhouse because they were poor. Part of the idea was to make an example of them so that those who could make an effort to help themselves did so. Another was to protect society from those who were unwilling and unable to help themselves.
Those were the days in Britain when the self-help guru was a man called Samuel Smiles. He published one of the first self-help books in 1859. The message of the book is basically they overcame adversity so if you put a bit more effort it so can you. For anyone interested in history it is a fascinating read. It is available free from the Gutenberg archive by clicking here.
Times have certainly changed. Today there is no such thing as a workhouse. Instead, there is financial support and even befriending type support for people in need. Despite this, some people in need go unnoticed. I read recently of a little boy who died of dehydration and starvation holding on to his dead mother. He had survived for about two weeks after his mother had unexpectedly died at home due to a long-term medical condition.
It is hard finding the balance between being tough enough for force people to do something to help themselves and providing them with a safety net. As soon as you try forcing people to help themselves people start squawking about how unkind and unfair you are being. Yet if you don’t then is giving them a soft landing really helping them.
You look in the Bible and you see things like those who don’t work won’t see the rewards that could come from putting the effort in. That is expressed in various ways in the book of Proverbs. There is the admonition that those who do not work should not eat. Even begging is a form of work and like any means of persuading people to give you money takes some skill.
You know them by their fruits
Another biblical principle but one that is very relevant here. What is the fruit of keep on giving people things compared to the fruit of encouraging them to help themselves?
If the best fruit comes from constant handouts then that is what we should be doing. If the best fruit or outcome comes from encouraging people to help themselves then that is what we should be doing.
The question then becomes what is the best fruit? Any suggestions?