For International Womens Day, I wanted to celebrate by sharing something I wrote 15 years ago...titled "The Business of Helping" - I wrote it on the eve of my journey to leave my hometown and embark on a move to Canberra to begin a career in the public service with the Indigenous Economic Development team at the time.
In celebrating IWD today, I think so many of us can get lost and swept up in a feeling of 'how far have we come?', 'what have I achieved?' and the endless questioning of how we value our lives and the contribution we make. But what if our measure instead is 'how true have I held to my beliefs?'
This #IWD2019 that is what I want to be proud of most, that in all of my journeys, #oneofakindness has been a recurrent theme. So here goes the story...
The business of helping, a common persons observations in our community, November 2004
How many of you today went out of your way and made a decision to help someone that you don't know? Or even someone that you know?
Nobody's Business, Anybody's Business?
Who's business is it to help? All of ours! It is not just the people who site behind the desk in government offices. Granted, they should be helpful, and quite often it seems like they are not. It may seem that they spend their days developing reasons for it: it's not in our strategic plan, not enough funding, it's another departments responsibility....
The Government willing or not, are unable to solve many of our problems. They cannot keep our kids fed, clothed, attending school, playing sport, off the streets, out of gaol. They can assist, but they are not responsible. They are not parents. We are. Whether you have kids or not, you are a parent in our community, even if you do not have responsibility for a child, you do have responsibility for all children.
Children are not just our future. They are our here and now. They deserve to be held in the centre of our focus at all times. For who is it that will be looking after us, when we are unable to look after ourselves?
It is in our own best interests to ensure the wellbeing of all children. if as a community we shirk our responsibility to nurture happy healthy kids, what is our future? Who will be there to look after us, to look after our grandchildren?
Problems these days go beyond the family unit. If we at the very least consider the economic reality to highlight the issue. If a kid is not cared for appropriately by family and is left hungry because Mum or Dad used their payments for other priorities. What if nobody else makes it a priority to ensure children are fed… this leads to the child to provide for themselves, so how do they do this? Steals. Who does he take from? All of us. It is everyone that is affected by an increase of feeling insecure when walking down the street and leaving our homes. It is all of us that pay or can’t afford to pay for rising insurance bills. And when the narrow view of “locking them up” is acted upon, it is all of us who pay the $50 000 + cost of keeping the kid “locked up”.
It is a simpler, cheaper solution to take responsibility for our children before we lock them up. If at a young age a person starts a career as an offender, rather than looking forward to a working career, it is not their failure, it is an indictment of our failure, to care.
That is of course, to take nothing away from personal responsibility. That kid has a choice – to do the ‘right’ thing or the ‘wrong’ thing. But if nobody in the child’s life takes the time ti sit with them and discuss choices, their future, it may be as simple as they didn’t know they had options to choose from.
They may have tried to get help. They could have walked into one of the 15 different government buildings scattered all over town, to find out which department’s strategic plan they fit into, and then tried to find out who has the funding to help, or the will… and when they were turned away or ‘referred on’, they kept going from building to building. I don’t think so. I struggle as an adult and as an advocate to make sense of the system. At the first setback, it could seem all too hard, especially for an illiterate, unconfident, desperate child. They think “too hard, I’ll go back to what I know”
So how come I help?
People ask me all the time, why do you help that kid? Or make comments such as there is no hope, people should help themselves, or it’s no use, you can’t change people.
I’ll say why I help. There is no such thing as a bad person. There are people who behave badly, live in bad situations and make bad choices. Sometimes I do this. When I have felt helpless myself the one thing that has made me fell useful is helping someone else.
If someone comes to me for help and I give up on them, when I know they need the help, I am giving them license to give up on themselves.
The cost of helping V the cost of not helping.
Help is not a costly thing. It doesn’t need funding. It only needs a little effort and goodwill. It is a smile, a nod, a hug, sharing time. TIME is a precious gift – giving someone the time of day, the time to listen to them – that is looking after your future. It is no great cost. Far cheaper then wasting money giving children the superficial things they can do without.
My job, my career is not about working 9-5. My job, is my role in the community, it is to be there at all times I can if people around me need help. Problems don’t just happen in business hours.
EJ Whitten (AFL legend) said:
It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.
Sometimes we all need time off, time to help ourselves, or to get help for ourselves. You can not care for others around you, if first you don’t care about yourself. Self-respect is critical. If you don’t respect yourself, how can you respect others, and how can they respect you?
So I Question.
For all of those who question why people help others that seem helpless… I challenge you. Next time you see someone who could do with some help, ask them…do you need a hand; is there anything I can do? If they say no, then that is their right, but it may at least mean something to them that you cared enough to ask. If you do help and feel you got nothing but a kick in the teeth for helping, don’t turn your back, it may be a test to see how committed to helping you are. Could you stand it if someone offered to help you, and then only proceeded to give up when they were tested?
What message do we send to people, if we only help because it is a nice thing to do, and whenever it gets unpleasant, we think it is too much effort? Think about it. It is often the unpleasant people that are living unpleasant lives that need our help the most. Think about what have they asked, have you done what they asked, when they said they needed help with it? Or have you done the opposite, or too little, or nothing at all? Sometimes it is possible to do too much and reinforce their feelings of inadequacy.
Most importantly though – people no matter how bad it seems are not helpless. If they ask for help, our responsibility I not to do for them, but to show them the way to do for themselves,
‘If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll live forever.’
Is helping a successful business?
If we invest our time, in addition to our money, helping is the most profitable business we can be in. I am moving on from Geraldton after working here for three years, in the helping business. To me out of the hundreds of people I have tried to help, if I have made a difference to just one person, that is success. For that person is now able to carry on, become a role model, help others and grow up and have children… who will also be helpful.
Success is not only about wellbeing within yourself, but when you can look around and see that all is well around you. The world is a mirror, and someone else’s sadness, hurt or troubles are reflective. Even if people tell you it is none of your business, make it your business, helping is in everybody’s best interests.
Return on investment
I honestly don’t believe since starting out as a youth worker six years ago and having the privilege to engage with young people from all backgrounds, I have ever not gotten an award for caring enough to ask someone if they needed help, and when they have said yes, doing all that I can.
My awards aren’t hanging on a wall. They are the smiles, the hugs, the gifts that I have received. I can’t hang these things on a wall for the world to see, they are just for me to look at, when I am feeling a little helpless myself.
They are the memories I keep in my heart, and they are what keeps my/me head strong.
* Photo from Lleuwin Youth In Harmony Sailing Trip 2004