About Helping People Who Have No Intention of Helping Themselves

Here’s an observation about helping people who aren’t really interested in helping themselves from a perennial gardener, though the implications go WAY beyond what you can do with plants.

At our old home, I had several hardy and attractive varieties of hosta and day lilies that needed thinned on occasion. So when friends or relatives would complain about needing more color in their yard or some such, I would offer starts. A person who just asked for starts reminded me – unintentionally – that the last time I “gave them starts,” it really consisted of me planting dozens of perennials that would have cost them real money all over their property. And going back a year later to see that all of the plants I had planted were gone – having died of neglect or been mowed off because the gardens were “too much trouble” to weed. And that reminded me of two other times I had planted large numbers of starts for people who “really, really” needed something to dress up their property. Only to find out months later that the people had mowed the plants off because they realized that tending a perennial garden until it was thick enough to crowd out thistles required actual work.

Over the same period, many friends who planted and tended starts I gave them created nice perennial gardens that give them pleasure to this day. Some have even forgotten who gave them the starts in the first place, but that’s not the point. The point is that they combined some advantage (free plants) with their own hard work and made something of it they can take pleasure in.

The pattern repeats itself in countless other areas, including helping people get started in a hobby they claim they are REALLY interested in, giving free musical instrument lessons – and in some cases free instruments – to people who REALLY want to play that instrument, and so on. Only to find out later that if I didn’t stick around and keep putting more effort into the thing than they did, they would “lose interest” in a matter of DAYS.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t do people favors or help them get started down some path I have already trod. But it does mean that I pay attention to how much the person has already done on his or her own before I invest any time into helping them get “to the next level.” And if I don’t detect any evidence of interest besides repeated assertions that they REALLY REALLY want to get involved in something, I limit MY involvement until i see evidence that they’re really going to pick up where I leave off.

The short version is, if someone really wants to do something or get involved with something, they will find ways to get started SOMEHOW whether or not they have my help. I often encourage and – in some cases – teach folks who have already started down a path I understand. That includes people like musicians whose actual music I don’t like and artists I don’t “get,” but whose struggles I understand. As a somewhat elderly person at this point, I try to follow the meme I once saw: “Be the person you needed when you were young.”

Back when I was a young wannabe musician, I would have given my eye teeth for the kind of support I’ve offered and, in some cases given, to people who subsequently realized that being a musician was actually hard work and walked away from it all without so much as a thank you.

In the meantime, folks like the would-be country singer/songwriter friend who balked at the idea of learning more than three chords on the guitar, the would-be gardener friend who isn’t sure where she left her shovel, or the would-be banjo player friend who doesn’t think practicing “rolls” will buy them anything – they’re “on their own” as far as I’m concerned.

As I write this, dozens of starts of the only hosta we brought with us are sitting in pots in the shade of my back yard – one more favor for my old friend. I water them when I water the tomatoes. And if they all die before my old friend who REALLY REALLY needs them gets over here to pick them up and put them in their own yard by themselves, let’s just say I’m not losing sleep over it.


About Paul

Paul Race has been writing and playing all kinds of music since the 1960s, though he tends to favor acoustic and traditional songs. He has created resources like CreekDontRise.com, ClassicTrainSongs.com, and SchoolOfTheRock.com to help other musicians get a good start on their own journeys.

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