Help: having it our way?

by Paul Burmeister

Garret Keizer's book on help (2004) does a good job of poking around at our assumptions about helping others. While we all know that helping others is virtuous, things get complicated when we start to sort out how we should help. Correct beliefs and virtuous convictions are no substitute for compassionate actions and human responses. Do we help from gratitude or from a desire for gratitude? Do we frame our help as an exchange—our compassion in exchange for another's righteousness? Do we say, "I want to help," and then say, "And here's what I want that help to look like"?
Keizer, an acclaimed essayist who has also taught high school and served as an Episcopal priest, is wise to propose that the central question is, "What will you do?" The helper must make choices, and humility must be an essential aspect because helping usually requires that the helper sacrifice something and suffer.