Compassion: Should you carry their load?

If you have been following my blog over the last couple of days, you will know that I have been participating in a global blogging movement 1000 Voices Writing for Compassion and it went live on Friday for the United Nations Day of Social Justice.  So, I have been spending what time I could over the weekend immersed in compassion, love but also a fair amount of cynicism and hurt..

I have uploaded a few posts but my main contribution was a somewhat humorous post: Compassion Fatigue: A Light Bulb Moment:

In this post, I warned about the signs of compassion overload, which could leave you at risk of compassion fatigue (which isn’t something to joke about, by the way):

“if you are watching ants lugging heavy loads with more than just a casual eye and indeed considering learning ant language so you can help them more effectively: “Hey, can I give you a lift?” Then, perhaps you have taken compassion just that little bit too far.”

Jen, from Driftwood Gardens suggested: “As far as the ant is concerned, my philosophy would not to be help him carry his load, but rather to leave him to his business instead of squashing him underfoot.”

That was a very insightful comment because there is that delicate balance between helping someone and dis-empowering them, which ultimately achieves what it describes. It takes away their independence leaving them unable to look after themselves, even when they might be quite able. Psychologically-speaking, this is known as “learned helplessness” but in everyday speak we call it: “use it or lose it”.

In the Unexpected Journey-Life”, Ameena from Ramblings of a Random quotes:

The best day of your life is the one
on which you decide your life is your own.
No apologies or excuses.
No one to rely on, lean on, blame on.
The gift is yours-
it is an amazing journey- and you alone are responsible
for the quality of it. This is the day
your life really begins. – bob Moawad

You can read more here:

All this thinking pressed even more buttons inside my think think think tank  and I remembered this excellent pearl of wisdom;

Education: a form of compassion.

Education: a form of compassion.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.

Of course, my daughter looked at this quote and pulled it to bits: “What if their fishing rod breaks?” “What if they have nowhere to cook it?” “What if they wanted to eat something else?”

Gee, I wonder why I’m going grey?

After reading the many posts which were uploaded for 1000 Speak , I am rethinking how we help others and whether we should be providing long term, intensive assistance. Instead, shouldn’t we be educating and empowering people to find ways around obstacles through education, lateral problem-solving as well as finding ways to draw out and develop their strengths, instead of only seeing weakness and what they can’t do? This way, we can all extend, stretch and become ourselves in every conceivable way instead of being stunted like a bonsai. An oak is meant to be an oak stretching its branches right across the sky. It was never meant to be a table ornament!.

Speaking as a person with a disability and when my auto immune disease flares up, I can become severely debilitated while my meds get increased to sky high levels. I sometimes get angry when I get stretched too far, especially as I have been doing this while parent two young, very active children . However, if I was never stretched, I wouldn’t grow and find out what I’m made of.  In the last few years despite these health issues, I’ve learned the violin and now play in an ensemble and I have also learned to ski. While this seems like a miracle, it was actually the result of incremental small steps, perseverance and persistence.

This seems to point to being stretched enough to challenge but not so far that we snap. Unfortunately, given the lack of support for people living with severe chronic illness or disability (by the way, anyone in the “severe” camp you could well have both) many are currently living in dire straights where even basic food and cleaning requirements are sadly lacking.

When it comes to helping people with perceived weakness, we should never assume they can’t do something, although it might be considerate to politely ask if they need a hand. I’m forever leaving my walking stick behind and am very thankful when people chase me to give it back. I have tripped, injured myself and dropped handfuls of things and appreciated assistance and lauded the “Good Samaritan”. A friend of mine has given the kids lifts to and often from school and friends have also minded the kids when I’ve had medical appointments (I have lots of these). We appreciate meals from friends or Church particularly during rough patches but I am also training my kids to cook and I am adept at cutting corners as well as doing the gourmet thing. I just choose my moments. Meanwhile, I try to give back and I photograph events at the school and write press releases to help out where I can.

After spending time with people with fairly significant physical disabilities, I have been quite surprised by what they can do both in terms of the everyday but also through incredible feats like climbing Mt Everest or completing the Kokoda Track. These achievements actually make me look twice at able bodied people wondering why so many are glued to the couch.

Moreover, when we step in and carry someone else’s load, we not only stop them from growing and reaching their God-given potential but we also stop them from developing resilience. I’m surprised that more people haven’t heard about resilience because from where I sit, it’s that  magic ingredient that allows empowers us to roll up our sleeves and get through adversity.

I loved this definition of resilience:

1.the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
2.ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.

However, encouraging and nurturing people to reach their potential doesn’t mean we should cut people who are struggling off without a safety net. Without the financial means to lead a dignified life, which for many people living with chronic illness or disability means a pension. We should never be left to fend for ourselves out on the street. Some of us can’t. We might be able to find ways around hurdles or pull off significant physical challenges for some one-off quest but that is different to what it takes to maintain a full-time job day in day out…especially while juggling medical appointments and procedures which I’ve heard so many describe as “a full-time job” in themselves.

Perhaps, what I’m suggesting is that we offer a hand without taking over or accepting a gracious “no” if our assistance not required. We can also share our resources, I guess through the village which Lizzie Rogers wrote so eloquently about here: . We all have different strengths and weaknesses and by pooling our resources, we can all benefit: T.E.A.M: Together Everybody Achieves More.

At this stage, this post is very much a work-in-progress and me thinking out loud in a bloggy kind of way and so I would really appreciate your ideas and feedback as these ideas are rather complex and probably something that requires more stewing but I wanted get it posted before 1000 Voices for Compassion finally clocks off in an hour’s time.

After over-dosing on love and compassion over the last couple of weeks. Actually, I’ll rephrase that. you can’t overdose on love. Anyway, after all of this good stuff,  I’m feeling 10ft tall…a tree which has outgrown so many, many expectations.

Year after year, the cleansing rains fall and the rejuvenating sun shines through my leaves and warms my soul. My leaves change colour, fall and decay recharging the soil and feeding the worms working unseen. Children climb my twisted branches while their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles shelter under the shade of my lush, green leaves. Families of birds nest in my leaves and sing each morning greeting the dawn. Possums swing from my branches at night and sleep in my hollows by day. Falling acorns spread my mysteries to foreign shores…or at least just further down the street. Sorry, there aren’t any koalas here. I am an oak tree, not a eucalyptus.

Anyway, time waits for no one and it’s time to quickly upload this before the bell tolls.

Love & Best wishes,


PS: This is a huge and very sensitive topic I’ve bitten off and really addressed on the run. Already, I am coming up with further points.

For all of us, there is an issue of quality of life and finding ways of giving us meaning. So, if we can cut corners in some areas so we can have enough energy or finances to do what matters, that’s sensible. I know a very inspirational person living with a disability who uses a wheelchair, rides a bike and can walk somewhat. Using the chair extends what she can get done but she is still maintaining her fitness and mobility. I used to think you either used a wheelchair or you didn’t not that you could do this juggling act, which is yet another way of empowering the individual!

I also wanted to mention finances for families living with chronic illness. I would estimate that many families with either a sick parent or child are in effect living on half an income. That one parent can’t work and might get some small amount from the government and then the illness chews up the other half of the income and then there’s what’s left and you’d better snaffle that up quick before the kids get hold of it!!



15 thoughts on “Compassion: Should you carry their load?

  1. herheadache

    No country is perfect, but I often say that if my family lived in the US we would have been bankrupt from all our medical bills when my brother and I had our transplants. I don’t know how I would feel if I had placed that kind of stress and burden on my parents at just thirteen years old, even if I had no control over getting sick.
    Also, the stress of raising not one, but two children with a disability could have broken up my parent’s marriage, like it has done for so many, but luckily it did not.
    It is a very sensitive subject, but I am on disability and have been since I turned eighteen. It’s a complicated thing, made even more so by the chronic pain I have had.
    I want to be off government assistance and supporting myself, so I can feel like I am actually contributing to society, but there is so much to that.
    I know I have my part to play in it, but there is a lot of issue with finding work for people who are visually impaired. Of course there are those who make it work. I have written several posts on my blog about employment and visual impairment. The ideal would be for me to find a way to have my own business, online through writing, or something else, but these are long shots. Doesn’t mean I am not working toward them and that I don’t have ideas, plans, dreams.
    It’s a very helpless feeling. Yes, I often think of the image of the blind beggar on a street, just a century ago or so. I am lucky to have great family, but who knows. I am lucky to be born in Canada, but I often feel like both being a woman and with a visual impairment are weighing me down. I yearn and long to get out from under that.
    Thanks for writing about these things.

  2. roweeee Post author

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences in so much detail because that really helps me and other people have a chance of understanding you and others better…which is really something I strive to do!! Due to the sensitive nature of this topic, it doesn’t get a lot of coverage.
    Through my membership of Muscular Dystrophy, I have become friends with some young people who have a form which affects their muscles and their intellectual development and the two things that seem to be important are a girlfriend /boyfriend and a job. LIke you, I am looking at selling some of my writing and finishing my books to make some income but stall. While the blog is taking up a fair amount of time at the moment, it has extended my writing considerably and is helping me think about and explore areas I hadn’t considered before or simply brushed off. While I sometimes wonder whether I am too judgemental about my writing, you do need to be ready and I see the blog as being stepping stones towards where I ultimately want to end up. xx Rowena

  3. herheadache

    Exactly. I look at my blog and my writing there as my portfolio. It is good practice. Hopefully it is practice for good things to come in the future. Yes, there is not enough awareness and I blog about these issues because I get frustrated about this. Progress takes time. I know that.

  4. herheadache

    I would agree. Finding love and employment are my two biggest wishes. I’ve had some success in one more than the other, but hopefully good things in the future.

  5. roweeee Post author

    It frustrates me, particularly as I know I’m already on borrowed time and yet I am doing well at the moment. I also can’t push myself too much or I fall in a screaming heap and I also have my family to look after. It is my daughter’s birthday tomorrow so am trying to get that all sorted while following up from 1000 speak which has inspired me so much and I really want to bask in all that love, compassion and wisdom and not come out! xx Ro

  6. roweeee Post author

    I don’t know whether you have heard of the Serenity Prayer, which is used by Alcoholics Anonymous:

    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    The courage to change the things I can,
    And the wisdom to know the difference.

    I have heard this prayer quoted many times to justify acceptance of one’s lot. However, it doesn’t include what changes us or take into account more recent discoveries about brain plasticity that we are not set in stone and can more than we ever thought possible.

  7. Roshni

    I agree that “hat we offer a hand without taking over or accepting a gracious “no” if our assistance not required”. I wrote about the same when I posted on what compassion is not! Assuming that someone is not capable without our help is just plain offensive!

  8. roweeee Post author

    I don’t know how you encourage people to be more intuitive without undergoing deep suffering, although there are some people who just seem to get it. As the phrase goes: “it’sd hard to find good help these days!!”

  9. roweeee Post author

    Arpitaz, Thank you for reading and commenting on my post. Thank you for mentioning pity because that is part of the compassion mix and it really undermines and destroys the beauty of compassion. My feeling is that if we treat others as equals and with respect, they should prevent pity. We need to fight the temptation to judge others and ourselves and to see the good in all of us instead of just focusing on the bad or negative. This is an ongoing work in progress. xx Rowena

  10. Anita Stout

    Beautiful post. Your points are so dead on. It’s taken me time to learn the difference between helping and dis-empowering and enabling. I learned that often I wanted to do something for someone – more to alleviate my own suffering born of watching others suffer than to actually help the other person. That’s more selfishness than compassion. It’s tough feeling so deeply but I can’t imagine my life any other way.

  11. roweeee Post author

    Thank you very much, Anita. This really is an intriguing area because before we jump in, we need to ensure we will be helping and not making matters worse in either the short or long term. Sometimes people have to face the consequences of actions so they can grow and change. IT gets tricky. That is not to stop helping. Or that helping is selfish. Helping does help the giver as much if not more than the receiver and that’s not a bad thing. It means there’s a mutual benefit.
    I feel deeply about others as well but for me, keeping a balance is important…a balance between activity and rest as much as a balance between light and dark. Eating well and not spreading myself so thin that either I can’t go round or that if I get sideswiped, I have enough internal resources left to cope with what’s going on. This means that I am currently having a breather from reading the compassion posts although I will post a link to some that I’ve read and also to the TED talks I read.
    Keep caring deeply but also take care of you!
    xx Rowena

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