Harmful giving

An intriguing article cropped up on the MSNBC site a few days ago: Matthew Illian’s “When giving does more harm than good.” The author explores the notion that helping those who could help themselves can lead to a vicious cycle for both giver and receiver. It’s something I’ve contemplated more than once in my friendship with Edwina. Too often, it feels like I give in ways that she might be able to manage on her own with a little bit of guidance and effort.

It’s a tricky balance.

There’s no denying that I am blessed in many aspects of my life that Edwina can’t imagine. I grew up in a middle class home and never once worried that I’d go hungry or wake up in the middle of the night to find that neither of my parents was there. As soon as Edwina was old enough to go outdoors by herself, she had to scrounge for food. Her parents were at home off and on, but much of the time they were drunk, fighting, or chasing after one of their children with a belt or a switch and a mouthful of foul language.

When I got off the bus after school, I knew my mom (a reading teacher) and my dad (who knows how to use figures better than any math teacher I’ve ever met) would be available to help me with my homework. I understood early on that with a little bit of help and perseverance, I could master the material in a book. Edwina’s parents didn’t complete high school, establishing a cycle passed down to Edwina and then her son, Steve.

As an educated white woman, I’ve never felt intimidated at the doctor’s office. Any doctor who’s attempted to brush off my questions has quickly learned that I’m going to ask until I understand why a particular test has been ordered or medication prescribed. I’ve sat in exam rooms with Edwina and observed doctors coming and going without a word to their patient.

These differences lead me to conclude that Edwina needs a hand every now and then. Sometimes, she deserves to be treated to lunch or invited to go on an outing. Heck, everybody should know the pleasure of a carefree moment now and then.

But there are times when I find myself running between work and carpool and the grocery store and my own visits to the oncologist and end up feeling irritated that Edwina needs something that only I can provide.

I’ll walk into her tiny apartment and see her husband, brother, son (when he’s not behind bars), and sometimes a few other friends and neighbors sitting on the couch in the middle of the day. Nobody’s at work. The television is blaring. Ashtrays filled with cigarette butts lie on the coffee table. Everybody’s keen to see me arrive prepared to save the day.

Sometimes, I could use a hand.


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