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The fourth help

Sun 31 Jul 2022 by mskala Tags used:

I've written before about three very different actions that all end up being called "helping" someone. It recently occurred to me that there's a fourth important one as well.

To recall, the first kind, which might be called "type I" help, means actually helping someone accomplish a goal. If your friend is moving house, maybe you show up and participate in loading boxes onto the truck. The distinguishing feature of this kind of help is that you're doing some of the work yourself so that the benficiary doesn't have to.

Type II help is giving advice. You don't actually lift anything, you just show up and tell the person, "Pick up that box! Now put it on that truck! Bend your knees!" The distinguishing feature is that you are not doing the work yourself - the beneficiary still has to do all of the work themselves. But maybe if you have specific expertise they don't, this contribution can still be valuable. It's the kind of help contemplated by the old saying about "teach a man to fish," and some people believe that saying.

Type III help may seem like a very narrow case. It's the kind of "help" that might be offered to someone who says they want to kill themselves. When we say "get help!" we mean type III help: counselling basically aimed at convincing the person that their stated goal is better not achieved. This is exactly the opposite of type I help; the opposite of literally helping the person do what they said they wanted to do. Here, we're helping them find a way to do anything but. The funny thing about type III help is that it's not so rare or specialized as would seem natural from that definition. It's certainly not limited to suicide and self-harm. Would-be helpers are eager to try to talk others out of many kinds of goals. I can't ever mention that I wish women would approach me, without some humanitarian popping up to help me understand that I don't really want women to approach me after all, honestly believing that I will derive some kind of benefit from being told that. They think they're helping, but it's type III "help."

The one I missed in my earlier posting is simple, and I'm surprised I didn't think of it before: type IV help is money; or if we want to generalize, it's providing any kind of a limited, fungible resource relevant to the goal. Depending on the situation, giving someone money may be a really important and valuable way of helping them. It may be better than any of the other types on this list. Or, in other situations, it could be a cop-out, a way of avoiding the more demanding responsibilities involved in the other ways of helping, and not really much help at all.

Type IV came to mind recently when I was looking at requirements I might have in an employment negotiation. I would probably ask an employer to help me with finding housing if I had to relocate to take up a job. That has been a problem for me when relocating in the past, such as on my sortie to Denmark. There are services that corporations and institutions can buy for incoming employees, where the service will actually do some of the work (type I help) of finding housing. I learned that it's not really possible for an individual to buy such a thing for themselves; the services will only deal with an HR department. So if I ask an employer to help me find housing, then it had better be clear on both sides whether the requirement is satisfied by just paying the expenses of the move.

It's important to really know which type of help is appropriate to offer someone - especially if we would presume to expect gratitude for it afterward.

6 comments

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I'm wondering whether it makes more sense to classify that moving help as type I or type IV. I mean if the service were something you could buy yourself, then it would seem a lot closer to just giving you the money to buy it, which would be type IV. However if you were given the money, you could also change your mind, and use it in pursuit of some other goal, which seems like an important characteristic of type IV, and absent in the case of the moving help. Moreover, assuming you had enough money (or other relevant resource yourself) but were just unwilling to spend it (e.g. most people with an RRSP would not draw from it, or even borrow against it, to hire someone to find them housing), it also seems like a characteristic of type IV help that you could just draw upon your own reserves; which the housing services also lack, since they'll only deal with HR departments.

That all said, a number of years back I started dating a woman who was in the process of moving from Montreal to Toronto (she was an immigrant from NZ and didn't speak enough french to remain in Quebec when she got her PR), and to find suitable housing in Toronto for her move, she simply hired a real estate agent; so the service you're describing is availabile to individuals -- just not from the same providers.
kiwano - 2022-07-31 06:35
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I actually did get help from a real estate agent on my own most recent move, from Copenhagen to Toronto. I didn't even pay directly - she collected a commission from the landlord. Going that route did mean my options were limited to places that had been listed through the real estate listing system, which isn't the majority of rentals but includes enough that it was possible for this to work. I'd say this is a *substitute* for the kind of relocation service I first hoped for, not "the same* service just from a different provider. The details of this example are not really my point here.

I think the fungibility of money is a reason to call money a distinct type of help from direct participation. As well as the idea that I could change my mind and spend it on something else, money abstracts the donor's participation too. Even if we think that giving me money to hire third parties costs the donor exactly as much utility as showing up on moving day would, *they* have flexibility to decide in the first place, or to change their minds about, how to get the money - flexibility that doesn't exist if they were attempting to directly participate.
Matthew Skala - 2022-07-31 06:54
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Maybe type IV is better called "resources." I have two recent examples.

A friend and neighbour was recently moving some stuff to his house, and due to time constraints I was unable to help with the moving. But I have a truck, I told him "Keys are in the truck, take it for as long as you need." He insisted "that's more than enough help!" and ended up having it for almost a week.

More recently, I was on a camping trip to and the other folks didn't have an RV. But I got mine via a corporate account and was able to add an extra RV to the order. I didn't pay for it, so it wasn't money. But I was able to "provide access" to the RV that they were otherwise unable to get themselves on short notice.
Steven R. Baker - 2022-07-31 17:49
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Those seem like they may be in a grey area - less fungible than literal money, but less involvement than direct participation. It may not be possible to draw hard lines here.
Matthew Skala - 2022-07-31 18:00
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You might expand this analysis to interactions with organizations of volunteers. Those I've volunteered for have shown little evidence of training of directors in the emotional needs of volunteers. These surface strongly at times of termination. I've more to say if the topic is of interest.
George Bowden - 2022-08-03 23:04
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That's a name I haven't seen in a while; nice to hear from you again, George! You're welcome to comment further on the gap between what organizations offer and what volunteers need, if you want.
Matthew Skala - 2022-08-04 06:18


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