I have been contemplating the negative conditioning that the majority of us have in regards to help. In general, it is difficult to receive help from a primarily empathetic standpoint, where the individual helping is assessing the person-in-need’s capabilities, passions, past history, fears, emotional attachments, and the base requirements that they may lack. Instead of generating a plan with a holistic account into a person’s situation, we tend to focus on providing them with what they superficially lack. For example, many of us will help by giving an unemployed person a job, but without considering if that job suits their strengths and proclivities. Many of us will help by giving a person money, but that person might have difficulties in either generating wealth or managing their finances. Many helping countries will act by providing services and goods to the in-need countries without first understanding how these services will impact the community and then implementing a structure for the inhabitants of the in-need country to self-implement these services and self-create such goods.
The point is, we have a tendency to help in a way that isn’t always so helpful.
Let’s use the Inuit tribe of Iqaluit, Canada as a case study in order to understand the manner in which our modern way of help is unproductive and even harmful on a micro and macro scale. The Inuit people have a history of effectively surviving in the harsh Artic climates for thousands of years. But after the Second World War, Canada’s federal government forced the majority of Inuit to relinquish their nomadic lifestyles, moving them into modern communities with foreign economic systems. Due to Canada’s inability to acclimate the Inuit to a modern lifestyle of work, education, and non-nomadic living, and the fact that the educational and career opportunities now necessary to survival were still scarce in Iqaluit, the Inuit people struggled to thrive in the new system they were placed into and many became impoverished and reliant on government assistance.[i]
Basically, in order to help the Inuit, Canada decided to build a new city up north and coerced the nomadic tribe- who didn’t even have the chance to consider if they would want to be burdened with this new establishment and way of life- to maintain it via economic enticements.
Now, I do not judge or blame those Canadian’s who decided on this path for the Inuit, since it is likely that- as Southern Canadians with cushy modern lifestyles- they thought that they could improve upon the Inuit tribe’s rustic struggles. Furthermore, I do not want to single out Canada, as most all prominent countries and cultures (the U.S. did the same to their own Inuit and Native tribes) are guilty of treating tribal cultures in this manner. Although people will feel singled out, scolded, and judged by the words in this essay, my aim is just to help us correct our previous mistakes on a global basis by changing our perception of what is right in regards to help.
In any case, whether the desire was to help or to take advantage of the situation, the Inuit were placed in a foreign system where they were no longer contributors but beneficiaries, putting them in a disadvantaged position in which their cultural strengths of hunting, sharing, and nomadic living we no longer applicable. And rather than help the Inuit, the federal government used their experience with the modern economic system to benefit from the situation.
This can be illustrated by the Nutrition North program, a program that is currently subsidizing the increased labor and cost it takes to ship and store food up north. Even though items like milk, broccoli, and peppers are suitably subsidized, the prices of the goods such as a case of water (a 24 pack for $4.49 down south, $29.95 up north), shampoo ($5.99 down south, $11.49 up north), laundry detergent ($17.99 down south, $31.99 up north.) are substantially increased. And this is likely because the 100 million dollars in subsidies are given directly to the superstores, whose goal is to maintain their profit and connections with high Canadian officials, not to improve upon the quality of lives of their northern shoppers. So even with the Canadian governments help, the current situation in Iqaluit is bleak. According to CBC Marketplace, nearly 40% of Inuit adults make less than 20,000 a year, and they have to survive on this with costly rents and goods, making food insecurity rampant. And for those that have the opportunity to make an expensive and risky move south, many Inuit feel a deep connection and love for their culture and land, not for the cushiony lifestyles of the Southern Canadians.[ii]
Because prominent Canadian officials helped with their own mentality of how they should help, Canadians are now spending millions of dollars that are being eaten up by a large chain corporation. Thus, the people most benefiting from the current situation are those with excess, not those with lack. It’s a model that helps make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
Unfortunately, this case study is applicable all over the world. In fact, in all countries, cultures, communities, and families, those with a majority mentality or lifestyle try and help those whose mentalities or lifestyles differ from the majority; and since their help is contingent upon what they believe and how they live, the help given ends up putting the individual being helped in a more perilous position, as that individual has to adapt to conditions and an environment that is likely unsuitable to their desired needs and proclivities.
So, if our modern perception of helping is often missing the mark in providing aid to those who don’t conform to the modern world, how can we change our perception of help so that the help provided has a better chance of working for those in need? Well, as is the case of effectively tackling any issue head on, our first task should be in remodeling our ideals on what adequate help is. Effective help is not so much in asking what you think the person needs, but in assessing what the person has, what the person lacks, their strengths and weakness, and then generating a plan that they will feel encouraged to follow and use in order to better their situation. In the long term, the focus should not be on helping them achieve their basic needs, but in allowing them find out how they themselves can use their potential to fill their base needs so that they don’t end up relying on continual assistance and- consequently- draining their individual resources and the resources of their communities and countries.
Secondly, good help is in expanding your conditioned mentality of right and wrong and in understanding that not everyone will work in the way society expects them to. And if you force them to work in that way, they will often flounder in an environment that isn’t conductive to their traits and- therefore- require assistance in the long-term. As the helper, it requires an empathetic understanding and realization that your manner of living and your particular value system is not morally superior, even if it aligns with the particular lifestyle and values of your community. This will then allow certain communities and individuals the space to live their lives in a separate manner from the rest of society. As the individual or community being helped, it requires an understanding of your values, the strength to distance yourself from a system that is not for you, and the audacity to go out and find a system that does work for you. This is why many creatives, unorthodox thinkers, and discriminated sectors of society end up in isolated, rural, or singular local communities.
If we combine the empathy to take into account another beings needs along with the capacity to understand that your way is not the right way for someone else, perhaps the manner in which we help may actually be helpful. Perhaps then we won’t force entire communities into a lifestyle that isn’t fit for them. Perhaps then individuals and particular communities won’t require government assistance for generations.
Perhaps then we won’t have just one right way of being, and thus can live in a world that gives individuals the freedom to create and express themselves.
At least it is worth a try.
It takes more than a hand to help someone.