Helping without rescuing…

What I love the most about being a part of this world is that we each want to be useful to someone and help each other out most often.

However, helping without rescuing – what is this about and why is it important? Imagine this –

Scene 1: A person is drowning – You go and help them and rescue them from drowning.

Scene 2: A person is learning to swim – Here, you help them learn. If you rescue them from learning, the odds are that they may not learn the skill of swimming for themselves.

Drawing a parallel, when an individual is in a crisis, out of love and concern, we may want to not only help but also rescue the individual. This usually may either create a dependency or take away the learning for the individual; or if the individual is not looking for a solution, you could be rescuing them ahead of time. As a result, you could be held to task for rescuing without being asked. So, what do we do then? Just watch? No!

Firstly, it is good to understand where is the person in terms of the problem:

–          Do they see it as a challenge (at times, we might perceive it as a challenge but the person going through may not)

–          If yes, are they looking for a solution? (This is most important. We cannot help someone find something they are not looking for – else they can give you 100’s of reasons as to why any of your suggestions might not work for their problem)

–          If yes, do they want to find the solution ‘on their own’ or are they looking to ‘you’ for some guidance?

–          If they are looking to you, are they looking for moral support, information, listening and empathy or anything else?

If we are able to gauge the individual on the above, we’d be in a better place to play a role that is required for that situation rather than merely offering what we’d like to offer. Offering anything when it is not required loses its value and can also backfire.

Offering your solution to someone is a way of rescuing. Enabling a person to come to their solution is helping.
The trouble with rescuing is that it creates dependency. The advantage with helping is that it leaves the person feeling empowered and confident that they can find their own answers. So how do we do that? How can we help without rescuing?

One of the ways to do that is by asking open ended questions which facilitate a thought process within them. We could gently nudge them towards solution thinking by framing the questions with that kind of focus – For example – how would you like to go about this situation? What do you think might work? What would you want to do differently? What would you like to have happen? and the like.

It is usually observed that people respond well to these kinds of conversations. If you want to pick a needle in a haystack, all you need is a good magnet. Likewise, you can be that magnet by asking neutral, open ended questions (without having a personal agenda) that will facilitate a thought process in the individual. People usually find their own answers when given a positive space and unconditional acceptance. Such revelations are usually liberating because it is their own resource. It may not be as quick as you offering your solution right away, but this is more sustainable in the long run as they find their own solutions and own them too. This way, you are helping them help themselves. You are empowering them!

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7 thoughts on “Helping without rescuing…

  1. Great article on something that can be very challenging. One observation – your questions are all based on the activity filter – the learning is not always about doing. David Grove found that by giving people the space to tell their ‘story’ they resolved their issues. If you are inclined to ask a question in the realm you propose (rather than say use a Provocative response a la Frank Farrelly which completely side steps any risk of ‘rescue’) you might ask ‘what would you like to have happen?’

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