Stop Helping People

helping-handA friend approaches you and says, “I’m feeling down today.”  “Oh, why is that?” you say as though a clear and succinct answer is forthcoming.  “I’m not sure,” your friend replies.  “Let’s go have a drink and talk about it,” you chime in because there’s at least a cocktail in it for you.

Great idea.  Feeling low?  Go drink several depressants to help you deepen your not knowing what it is you’re doing.  (Drinking helps in movies but rarely in life.)

It knows no personality type but we all love to believe that we are helping people through the helpful help we think they need with our wisdom-filled solutions which are very often trite aphorisms; “time heals all wounds,” “there’s people worse off than you,” “it gets better,” or the worst of all is “that happened to me too!”  Misery loves what group?

I’ve often thought that helping another person is really about us.  We get to solve this person’s dilemma because it’s in the way of our lives and we get to be the saviors that solve whatever it is and our friendship becomes more solid than it was before.  Advice can be deadly especially after saying, “I know what you’re going through” whereas advise guides another to reflect and review.  In other words, Advice gets you to enjoy your cocktail while advise prolongs and prolongs your friend’s dilemma, which is the point.

“Father, I’m confused,” she says to me with an agenda that I will dissolve her confusion so she can continue on in her certitude.  I reply, “What a great place to be?”  Her eyes have that shock of “So where’s the answer?” coupled with “I thought you priests possess all the answers!”  Confusion is a wonderful state to be in.  You find that you’re caught between two thoughts – both seem legitimate -but still two conflicting thoughts or the stage you’ve enjoyed for years is closing and a new stage is beginning or what was tried and true now bores you.  You seek out the Church’s Wizard to choose a direction or solution for you.  (This method is much easier and less responsible on your part when someone else pulls the levels and releases the smoke by way of mirrors.)

What if we just stopped helping people which most often doesn’t help anyway?  Whether a friend or church-goer, a sincere “Ummmmm” goes miles and miles.  It presents back to the person that you have heard her/him and that you are with and support them.  (What are friends for!)  “Ummmmm” is profound regardless of how many “m’s” you add after the “u.”

I love when people use the words “confused,” “upset” or “troubled” or more colorful words with the same meaning.  It means that something is simmering that needs to simmer.  My intervention with a depressant drink only postpones the personal homework that needs to be done by my friend.

I will stand beside, along side and behind you for as long as it takes for peace to again fill your heart and steady your daily schedule.  Please don’t ask me to solve your problem so I can feel smug and you are left with my solution.

Because guess what’s next?  It’s called the “Blame Game.”

About Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1980 and a member of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians). Six books on the Catholic church and U.S. culture are available on
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