By Ruth Limkin
Our organisation has deployed over 300 volunteers to help flood victims in the last few weeks. We’ve connected people in need with people who can help, always listening, watching and working to ensure that the help needed is the help we are providing. After all, misplaced kindness and generosity can add stress rather than alleviate it.
This week, I was talking to a school chaplain in the Lockyer Valley, assessing how we could help, and she told me about one young man at her school. He was recounting that ‘random people keep turning up and giving us stuff’. They now had drawers full of toothbrushes and toilet paper.
This young man was glad that people were thinking of them, and was not trying to be ungrateful. However, when your life has been turned upside down, finding places to store items that someone else thinks you need can make life more difficult.
Another young woman from Grantham, who lost everything, had been given bags of second hand clothes. Again, she was grateful that she had something to wear, but none of it was the kind of thing she would choose herself. She told one of our volunteers how she had to go to an op shop and buy a dress. “I’ll probably never wear it,” she said, “but I really needed something in my wardrobe that I had chosen myself.”
Our clothing, our style, and the very act of choosing what we want, is an important part of feeling like we have some control of our life.
When we presume what other people need or want, rather than taking the time to listen and learn, we are often ‘self-soothing’. We end up soothing our own desire to help, rather than soothing their pain.
When we give people resources that they can exercise stewardship over, we invite them to participate in the creative process of rebuilding. Such a process nurtures the heart and empowers the soul.
Even in our sincerity, if we give people what they do not need, or if we deny them the opportunity to choose, we can add a level of emotional or practical complexity to their life.
Generosity is essential but let’s learn what people need before we kill them with kindness.