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when helping hurts

September 18, 2015

The borderlands that separate genuine helpfulness from meddling—or worse—are an unruly region in the realm of thought…riddled with questions of consent and of who-knows-best.

Here’s an interesting discussion about de/colonisation, aid work, and when “helping” hurts. Haitian workers and citizens give very clear examples of well-intentioned policies/practices which have actually promoted poverty and removed people’s independence.

I’m now struggling to see what the good ways of helping are. Wealthy nations continue to cause disaster, poverty in Haiti. And the path to understanding is looking at how we contribute to that destruction.

Marylynn Steckley, PhD graduate, Western University.

Where is that “path to understanding” being walked in my communities and workplaces? Where are the small spaces where we can step together into looking at our own practices, with help from examples like this podcast?  Where do we pause to notice what is going well “on the ground” compared with “on paper”? There’s often an air of being “too busy” for these conversations – but what, really, is more important than decolonising ourselves and our work as “helpers”?

Isn’t it a special kind of twisted, when people who need help have to receive it from people who are at the same time actively, if unintentionally, perpetuating harm? I have been so hungry for self-compassionate and critical conversations which change business-as-usual in caring work done in/for/with/by Inuit and First Nations communities. I’ve seen good people come and go, good working relationships begun and abandoned, when committed attention to effectiveness could have kept helpers and the people they work with connected, satisfied, engaged, together co-creating contagious positive change. Let’s talk! And let’s breathe, reflect, wonder, inquire, adjust, pause, notice, repeat.

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