Helping is so appealing, and why?

by Paul Burmeister

Writer Garret Keizer's book on help (2004) explores the question: what makes helping so appealing to the helper. Here are the possible reasons—the reasons are not virtuous because they are common or inevitable to the do-gooder who has been burned in the helping transaction:

The helper can exercise power.

The helper can resolve his / her guilty conscience.

The helper can go against best judgment or conventional wisdom of others.

The helper views the helped person like a little child.

The helper gets manipulated, usually to a degree that is knowing.

The helper is attracted to (and participates in) a good story.

The helper can discover the self or soul of another person.

This list of reasons is pulled from pages 106-11, Help: The Original Human Dilemma, in which Keizer recounts Norman Mailer's infamous help for Jack Abbott.

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.