This article begins with a small story that will leave us a great reflection on what it means to let people find their own way and meaning.

“Many years ago, in a distant monastery in Tibet, lived a young man who aspired to become a monk. He had a great desire to learn, so when one day his teacher told him that they would embark on a journey, the young man prepared himself with great enthusiasm.

They walked for several days until they reached a town where a very humble family lived. They asked for lodging and food. The family welcomed them and shared everything they had with them. The apprentice monk asked them how they could support themselves.

The man replied: “We have a cow that gives us everything we need: milk and cheese, so we exchange what we do not consume for other foods, this is how we live.

At night, the old monk told his disciple: “Take advantage of the fact that they are sleeping, go to the barn and scare the cow into leaving.”

The young man protested “How can I do it? The cow is the only thing they have, it is their livelihood! ” The old monk said nothing, turned and left.

The young man spent several hours meditating, but because he respected his master, he entered the stable and frightened the cow. Then he felt so guilty that he left the house, disappointment also prevented him from returning to the monastery. He no longer wanted to be like those monks.

He spent his days traveling and thinking about the poor family he had left without means of support. So he set out to work hard to save enough and buy a cow to make up for the damage he did to the family.

But the cows were expensive, it took a few years before he could save enough money. He finally returned to the village and, to his surprise, saw a luxurious hotel where the humble abode used to be.

He approached the man who was sitting on the porch and asked him: “Excuse me, did a very humble family live here a few years ago that had a cow?” The man looked at him and said, “Yes, yes, it’s us.”

The young man looked at him in disbelief and asked: “But … how did you manage to prosper so much?”

The man said: “Well… look, one day, the cow that gave us life disappeared… At first we were very worried, we didn’t know how we would have continued to live. Then we start to think. Our land was very good for planting vegetables, so we started to cultivate a garden that would grow and produce one crop after another, so we started to exchange some vegetables with other foods and we sold the rest, with the money we earned we bought cattle, we raised it and we started to sell the garments in excess, with the money we earned we managed to expand the house and we started renting rooms… And as you can see, now we are the owners of the only hotel in the city! 

Lessons you can learn from this story

This story contains several lessons, one is that in many cases the best help we can give is to encourage people to leave their comfort zone . Sometimes we must avoid compassion that invites others to stay where they are. Other times, even staying on the sidelines is helping.

When the “savior” becomes a victim of the “saved”

Sometimes adopting the role of “savior” can be very damaging to others. Helping others without being asked can be a serious mistake because, although we are motivated by a feeling of genuine generosity, we are limiting the possibilities for learning and growth of others. Sometimes this help creates a relationship of addiction in which one of the people feels so comfortable that they will do nothing to improve.

In this relationship, the savior gives continuously, until he is physically and psychologically emptied, while the saved is limited to accepting. In this way, an unhealthy balance is created in which the savior carries a double weight, his own and that of the other person. The worst thing is that, in many cases, when the savior tries to shed the weight that does not belong to him, others tend to consider him selfish and not empathetic. This feeling of guilt will ensure that you continue to bear the other’s burden.

Therefore, it is not unusual for the “savior” to end up becoming the victim of the “saved.” It is a situation in which no one wins, not even the other person, because by preventing them from striving, we are limiting their freedom and the possibility of achieving goals through their efforts.

It is essential not to nurture this type of relationship because “saved” people become passive and in some cases even selfish, believing that they have the right and control over their “savior”.

Not even intervening helps

The secret is to help others when they really need it and ask for it. In many cases, enlisting someone’s help can be convenient, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best solution or the one that provides long-term benefits.

Life experiences strengthen and make people more resilient, so preventing others from dealing with them is, in a sense, a kind of emotional castration. Someone in vulnerable conditions needs our help, but only up to a point. The goal should be to try to make sure that the person can achieve success on their own so that they can keep walking on their own two feet.

What we should never do for others is take responsibility for their lives away from them. We can help them bear their weight for a time, or teach them to improve it, but we cannot carry it for them forever.  Helping a person does not mean adopting them for life . And this is true for couples as well as for children and friends. A growing relationship is one that nurtures and enriches, not one that castrates and limits.

Emotional validation, the key to help you grow

The key to helping others is maintaining a relationship characterized by mindfulness and unconditional acceptance. It does not mean withdrawing from the other and neglecting his problems, because he solves them as best he can, but it means validating his feelings and encouraging him.

Sometimes a hug, or just knowing that someone is there with us to help us pick up the broken pieces, is more than enough. This means that in many cases our help will be limited to a process of emotional support, while the person makes their decisions, makes their mistakes, corrects them and continues.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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