Thursday, January 27, 2011

I know you have a problem

You've got a problem. I know you have a problem. Your family knows you've got a problem. Everyone seems to know you've got a problem. Everyone, that is, but you.

What does one do in such a situation? How do we help someone who does not want to be helped? In Mosiah we learn that we are to mourn with those that mourn and bear one another's burdens. How do we live that teaching, especially when the person who needs help won't get it?

The issue is that you are likely to come to me for help. But it will be help for problems that you could solve if you'd solve your core problem. But you don't see the core problem. Or you see it and won't do anything about it.

King Benjamin teaches we ought to offer help whenever it is requested without judgment of the person seeking help. Does that mean I give the help I'm asked to give, or I try to solve the root problem?

At least one of the reasons King Benjamin gives for his direction to help everyone without judgment is that we're all beggars. We're all in the same boat (or at least similar boats) and we all need help. And that means I probably have a bigger root problem that someone else sees better than I do, too. Related to that reality is that I may not be in the best position to judge what your real problem is. I can't see into your heart. I'm not a trained professional counselor. I'm not your religious leader. I'm just a parent or a friend, or even just a guy you ask for help.

When we do things for people that they could and should be doing for themselves, we are at risk of enabling behaviors that are not healthy in the long run. People in "Anon" program like Al-Anon or Families Anonymous or the church's Family Support Groups (a companion program to the Addiction Recovery Program, but not yet available everywhere) learn the dangers of enabling alcoholics or addicts, since enabling typically does nothing to encourage change in the addict. (Stopping the enabling is also no guarantee that an addict will seek change, by the way. But, as the slogan goes: If nothing changes, nothing changes.)

Enabling goes beyond cases of addiction. Enabling behaviors could also slow the preparation of young people to enter the adult world. They can hide the true effects of abuse in a family. They can allow a co-worker to work less than he's paid to. And more.

So, how do I decide how to help?


  1. It's a little hard, from this post, to tell what's going on.

    But, for starters, I'd say it depends on what the problem is--and on what else is going on in this person's life. What consequences (in all areas of their lives) are they experiencing? What opportunities have they lost? What relationships have suffered?

  2. I'm really looking for a more general discussion rather than a specific answer to a specific problem.

    At what point can I ignore King Benjamin's counsel to avoid enabling unacceptable (or unwise) behavior?

    Is the answer different if it's someone close to me rather than a stranger?

    Does the fact that I recognize a "larger problem" mean that I can or should change my approach?

    (I probably should have listed these questions more explicitly in the OP.)

  3. It depends on what the unacceptable behavior is. Some "unacceptable" behavior--like, say, leaving the church, or living an openly gay lifestyle--is "unacceptable" in purely religious terms. The harm resulting from these actions is subjective, in that it relies on adhering to a set of certain philosophical beliefs. Other behavior has more concrete consequences--such as drug use. Many gay men, for example, lead healthy, productive lives; the harm would be in concerns about their eternal progression. No drug users, on the other hand, lead healthy productive lives.

    I think King Benjamin's wisdom is very relevant to our lives, today, in that we must always be mindful to separate "I think you're making a mistake" from "you're engaging in behaviors that are preventing you from achieving *your* stated goals, whatever they may be, whether I personally agree with those goals or not".

    It's the difference between judging someone for sinning and staging an intervention.

  4. When I saw this, the firs thing I thought of was people who are sure that everyone else has a problem ...

  5. CJ, you raise an interesting point. I think that the classic example for church members is whether you give money to the panhandler on the street. Some say no because he'd drink the money away (sinful to church members and perhaps harmful, too). But the way I read King B, it seems we shouldn't even pass that judgement.

    But in a parent-child relationship, where our job is to teach kids how to be happy, productive adults, perhaps the response needs to be different.

    I agree that the hot buttons of "sinful" (to the parents) behavior may raise flags, but it's not what I was thinking of.

    Stephen -- Your comment made me think of something I try to remember: If I have a problem with one person, then maybe he's wrong or I'm wrong. If I have a problem with everyone, I am more likely to be wrong.

  6. King B's example is an excellent reminder of the plan of salvation, in that God loves everybody--sins and all. If you're asking yourself, should I give money to this panhandler on the street?, the next question, I think, should be did Jesus die for everybody? If you agree that He did, well...He also tells us to go and do likewise. How can we do any less? What someone's going to do with that "free gift" is their business.

  7. Excellent point, CJ. And I think it applies especially well when we are not close to those seeking our help.

    I think when we are close, we may take a different approach (as suggested by the "Anon" concerns in the OP).