I have developed a lot of codes while analysing my first interview. Possibly too many, but we'll see. One thing I've been pondering is the difference between "being helped" and "being supported". At the moment I am calling everything "being helped", but I really do think there's a difference here. Being supported suggests an amount of agency and independence, while being helped can be quite a dis-empowering thing. Like when I ask for the right kind of tools to do a manual task and someone brings the tools and does the job for me. This way I am being helped, and I am grateful, but part of me feels dis-empowered. The end result is the same, the item is fixed, but I have lost the opportunity to learn, I feel like I'm not expected to know how to do these things, and I am forced to humble myself in front of the person with superior knowledge and skill. Now, I have no problem with humbling myself, but do I want to make a child on the street humble him/herself before me considering the power imbalance that already exists between us?
Being supported however is different. Like a personal trainer - the trainer cannot run the marathon for you, but he can give you the tips for how to get fit, run alongside you reading you your speed and split-times while shouting encouragement. The personal trainer watches you struggle but continues to encourage because they know how hard the marathon is going to be, and that in the end you'll thank them!
A final example. I really respect my Swahili teacher because she has the patience to watch me struggle with remembering words, giving me lots of Swahili examples of sentences in which the word is used in order to trigger the memory in my mind. I find, in the long run, the words she has let me struggle to remember (rather than just telling me the answer) are the ones that stay in my memory longer, because by struggling and hearing examples, my brain works harder to link this word in my memory. I'm not a neuroscientist, so I don't know the science behind the validity of this statement, but this is my experience! I've had other experiences where my colleagues cannot help but tell me the answer (often because I've asked for it!), and the word goes straight into my head and out again. In school we are strongly praised for coming up with the right answer before everyone else, so to me it seems the desire to give the right answer is strong in many of us! But I wonder how being told the right answer straight away might also hinder our ability to learn. It may seem like helping, and you satisfy someones request for information quickly, but what is the long term impact of not allowing someone to think for themselves?
As a counter argument, in my home, we tend to instinctively divide up tasks based on who enjoys doing certain things and who can do them most easily. When working together as a team, it seems that things can be done a lot easier if all participants play to their strengths. Some people may not be interested in learning how to write employment contracts to a sufficient standard to warrant putting the effort in to teach themselves. While others prefer to keep social media at arms length, and become anxious at the thought of having to write a blog. When helping others, how best to draw the line between working together as a team and doing what comes easily to us versus supporting others to develop their own skills in an area?
This is not an original thought and I am sure these questions have been heavily debated in empowerment and pedagogical literature. But I think there is more to ponder here when we think about our interactions with others and how our intentions to help can sometimes be dis-empowering and limit others' opportunities for growth and learning. Especially when the help is unsolicited. There are also interesting questions to be asked about age appropriate levels of responsibility and when it is appropriate to watch a child struggle with a responsibility, and when it is necessary to step in with direct assistance. Anyone got any thoughts, views or examples on this?
Picture taken from Creative Commons on Flickr. User: A4284629mo. Runners from the Great Manchester Marathon, 2013.