There is a famous proverb that goes like this, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” What does that mean? How do we help others to help themselves? Do we tell people how to do that? Do we teach them or show them? Maybe we just do it for them and save everyone the hassle of learning or can we just give them a Field & Stream subscription?
I propose that we can best help others to help themselves by using empowerment and encouragement to meet their chosen goals. The definition of Empowerment from Oxford Languages is “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one's life and claiming one's rights.” So accepting this definition begs the question of how we can help others become stronger and more confident in themselves.
The answer can be found in many different ways such as being an active listener, asking questions, primarily open-ended questions (How or What?), realizing that we are not here ‘to fix’ that person, showing compassion/understanding, being patient, being a mentor, and exploring options with brainstorming sessions, and just being a friend on equal terms. Sometimes this may mean just listening or placing a hand on one’s shoulder or it may mean donating or sharing physical resources. It could mean showing different options that the person was unaware of as in an eye-opening brainstorming session. Being a role model is another excellent way to help others help themselves. If people can see others succeeding then they have the choice to follow suit or not yet the choice is theirs. It is not a choice for us to make for them - it is our choice to allow them to decide for themselves. That is true empowerment!
Encouragement is “the act of trying to stimulate the development of an activity, state, or belief,” says the Oxford Languages Dictionary. I see encouragement as a tool of empowerment because encouragement is about being “more confident” about one’s self - how can we do this? I look back on my past and think about the times that others have made me feel “more confident” and I am amazed at its simplicity. Sometimes all it took was a pat on the back or for someone to say, “I believe in you! You’ve got this!” other times it simply took follow-through of the action on my part. In other words, I just had to complete what I was doing to feel more confident and to do that sometimes (okay, all the time) I need to be held accountable for my choices. Mentoring is a great way to encourage others as well as help others to help themselves because everyone benefits!
When you look back on your past experiences in life, how have you helped others to help themselves? And as you look back, think about those times when others have helped you. What was that like and how did you feel when someone encouraged you to try something that was beyond your experience?
In conclusion, helping others to help themselves appears to be one-sided yet in reality, helping others is helping yourself as well. Did you know that helping others offers benefits such as increased health, well-being, and longevity? And it can boost your self-confidence, self-awareness, self-esteem, and lower depression!
Finally, I leave you with this quote:
“To ease another’s heartache is to forget one’s own” - Abraham Lincoln
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