There's an old Chinese proverb that says "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
I think it's a good philosophy because it makes a distinction between doing something for someone and teaching that someone how to do it for his or herself. You know, I also think that old proverb is about independence and self-sufficiency much like the lesson the young Ray Charles Robinson received from his mother as depicted in the 2004 movie, Ray. She said, "I'll show you how to do something once; I'll help you if you mess up twice, but the third time you're on your own 'cause that's the way it is in the world." It is one of my all-time favorite movie quotes because it is filled with a kind of desperation to instill a sense of independence into someone who could have otherwise spent the rest of his life being crippled by his blindness.
That early lesson taught Ray Charles "how to fish". His mother understood that he would go out into a world that was big and dark and filled with challenges for him. So, rather than allow him to become comfortable with leaning on her or others to do things for him, she prepared him for those challenges so that he could "stand on his own two feet."
In some ways, this lesson applies to aspects our relationships to and with others in our own lives. Oftentimes we have good intentions when doing things for others. We take pride in lending a helping hand and obviously, it is a good and noble thing to do for others. However, I wonder how often we consider whether or not our helping will have long-term benefits or short-lived relief.
Certainly there are a number of instances where it is so much easier and quicker to do something for someone rather than showing them how to do it themselves. There are even those times when a quick fix to a problem is needed in order to bring it to a manageable level so that possible solutions can be thought through. Once you stop the "bleeding" though, it is important to help by teaching a person how to manage his or her own situation so that either they avoid similar problems or they have the know-how to help themselves in the future.
Consistent instances of short-lived relief brings us back to the source or one like it to hopefully get the same and it does not hold us accountable for own well-being.
When we give help in ways that do not ultimately return the responsibility back over to the person to whom we are giving help, we run the risk of creating a dependent relationship. So, what began as you being a good neighbor, friend, sister, or daughter, doing good with good intentions, could turn into a sort of lop-sided relationship that breeds resentment on your part.
Not only is there wisdom in helping others to help themselves for the benefit it brings to their own lives, but doing so also preserves relationships. The long-term benefit is two-fold in this way.
Contact columnist LaTonya Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.