Don’t point a finger when you can lend a hand

“Don’t point a finger when you can lend a hand.” Sounds profoundly simple doesn’t it? Yet, why is it such a underutilized approach? One of our friend’s father was good with his hands, but also had a big heart. Before he passed away, it was not uncommon for him and a group of handymen from his church to visit sites of hurricanes and help people repair and rebuild.

Even though you may not be a handy person yourself, volunteering to help means a great deal to the community, but also yourself. Probably the most exhausted I have ever been is when a work group from my company helped build a Habitat for Humanity house. I was so tired, this right-handed person was hammering up the insulation with his left hand at the end of the day. But, I also felt very rewarded in doing something good.

Yet, you do not need to have carpentry tools in your hands to help others. Use your skills, experiences and contacts to help others. Help people with their resumes, prepare for interviews or presentations, or dress to impress with your donated clothes. Or, better yet, help them with contacts to companies that could help them network or get hired. As someone who has helped homeless families, a key stumbling block is these families have exhausted their networks or their circle of friends and family are in a similar situation

One of the key skill sets the licensed social workers (at the agency I volunteered with) taught their clients is how to budget. What is a need versus a want? And, sometimes they did this with tough, but empathetic love. I recall the story of one woman laying her head down on her dining room table to cry as the bills piled up. The social worker said I know it is tough, but we must go through them and figure out what and how much we can pay and who we need to call for more time.

A minister named Bob Lupton who lives with his family among the folks he helps wrote a great book called “Toxic Charity.” We were so impressed by the book, we invited him to speak to volunteer groups here. His main message is don’t do for someone what they can do for themselves. True charity should be reserved for emergency. We should help people climb a ladder, but they need to climb it. Those Habit for Humanity recipients had to first put in sweat equity on other houses before they could work on their own house.

One of the things Lupton said is also telling. In your churches, business groups and organizations, sits an abundance of skill sets. Encourage these folks to offer those skills to help others. Maybe they could help someone start a business, maybe they could help teach or nurture a talent like baking, cooking, carpentry, or computer skills or maybe they could help look after children while the parents go to some night classes to get a GED or achieve a community college degree.

The key is there is little use to point a finger to blame people for their situation. Maybe they did make some bad decisions that greased the skids for their problem. Maybe they trusted the wrong guy and he was abusive or stole from her. Maybe they were not strong enough to say no to bad things. Maybe they had to forego car repairs and it broke down. Maybe they lost one of two jobs. Maybe they were too passionate in the moment and did not insist on using birth control.

In the group I helped, 1/3 of the homeless working families we helped were homeless due to domestic violence. These families lost half their income, their home and were beaten by an abusive person. The level of PTSD in these families is as high or higher than that of a combat veteran. Not knowing where your next meal will come from or seeing your mother battered and embarrassed is a hard pill to swallow.

We all make bad decisions. We all find ourselves in circumstances where we wonder how it got to this point. But, many of us have better support groups that will help us through. I am reminded of the line from the Madonna song “Papa don’t preach, I’m in trouble,” where the daughter asks for help and gets it after she screwed up.

So, don’t point a finger when you can lend a hand. We have all needed one from time to time. Happy holidays all.


25 thoughts on “Don’t point a finger when you can lend a hand

  1. Reading about the folks you helped … victims of domestic abuse and homeless … validates my thoughts related to the many individuals who are in this very unfortunate position.

    Yet there are those (very often Republicans) who are convinced these people CAN work … CAN support themselves … and are just panhandling because they’re lazy and don’t want to work. As Jill would say … Grrrrrrrrrrr!

    • Nan, what I tell people is when you have met one homeless person, you have met only one. People are homeless for different reasons. There are too many that paint a picture based on a very small percentage of homeless people. Same thing goes for malingerers; they are a very small percentage of those getting help. Keith

  2. Thank you for your efforts in helping people Keith, the immediate impact is to those in need, but there are ripples in that generosity and community-spirit which spread out farther and farther.
    Best wishes for all the efforts in the future.

    • Well said Erika. Poverty is the absence of money. Period. People in need have no greater degree of addiction than the general population, but it is thought they do by too many people. A study in Florida revealed this. Keith

  3. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    In this timely post, our friend Keith reminds us that we can ALL do something to help others. He also reminds us that sometimes helping someone means giving them the skills and tools they need to help themselves. Thank you, Keith, for all that you have given and continue to give to us all!

  4. Note to Readers: We used to have volunteers sign a statement agreeing to not proselytize to those they were helping. It turned out we did not need to as the clients had more piety than those helping them. All they had was their faith.

    Bob Lupton tells the story in his book that those in need would tell him they wished the church groups would ask them about their faith, not assuming they were not faithful.

  5. Where I’m at, high school kids have to complete at least 40 hours of volunteer work during their high school years in order to graduate. It’s a wonderful tradition to instill in everyone. Teaches values and hard work and the importance of helping without expecting anything in return.

  6. We’ll be volunteering on Christmas Eve this year. It will be a first for us at this type of event, but for whatever reason, I was drawn to sign-up. This post just confirmed I made the right decision. Thank you for sharing, and Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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