Advent post: Stop blowing those charity bubbles!

This post, unlike the first two, is about something I consistently do wrong when trying to help others. It’ll be short because I think the problem is really easy to describe once I’ve been able to notice it: I overpromise and underdeliver. I say that there’s probably a way I can help and then either I was much too optimistic about what is actually available or I get overwhelmed and do a perfunctory job.

There are two points to make here. One is that Advent is a good time to ask yourself about times when you’ve tried to be useful, helpful, or loving toward others, and it kind of collapsed out from under you or didn’t work the way you’d hoped. Was some of that your fault? If you notice a pattern like this, you can use this season to try to acknowledge it, repent of it, and change your behavior.

The second point is that charity isn’t necessarily about making people feel better. It isn’t a form of people-pleasing. There are several reasons I tend toward overpromising and one of them is that I really want people to feel better in the short term. I want them to have hope. But giving and then snatching away hope is the strategy used by the researchers in this update of the marshmallow test… and you can see how it would be hugely damaging to people’s sense of trust and ability to persevere in the face of challenges.

I tend toward a fix-it mentality, the stereotypical “guy” thing where the girlfriend will pour out her sorrows and he’ll suggest that she, like, take a class or go to the gym or do some thing which will fix the problem. I’m trying to learn that a lot of the time it’s better to accept that even if the thing does get fixed, I can’t fix it, and I can’t give advice or help with fixing it. What I can do, and what is often pretty intensely needed and desired, is listen.

Here is Scaffold with your post title. (Not endorsing that guy’s YouTube channel, just the song.)

About Eve Tushnet

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