Hero or Hindrance: Choosing When To Help
There’s a reason that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become so successful. I think we all have a desire, whether small or huge, to play the role of the superhero. We may not aspire to save the world from evil. But we do aspire to turn tough situations around, or solve a big problem, or help transform someone’s life from hopeless to hopeful. It feels good to be needed and to be part of taking something from bad to great in our areas of influence.
Those of us who are parents have all had opportunities to play the hero. We’ve seen our kids wrestle with really hard situations or bad decisions. And we’ve each had to choose how we will respond. It’s easy to want to rescue our kids—to help them turn a terrible situation around, and to provide a way for them to escape the pain and hardship of a bad decision.
And the choice whether or not to try and rescue someone is not only one we have to make with our kids…but also our friends, co-workers, employees, and so on, wherever we lead or influence others.
There are several problems with always playing the role of the hero. The biggest one is that the hero
usually winds up having to repeat the heroics, over and over and over again. It feels good to be needed, but our being needed can easily stunt both our growth and the growth and development of the people we are trying to help. Eventually, after enough repetitions, the hero gets exhausted.
When my kids were growing up, my wife and I were big fans of the “Love and Logic” books on parenting. One of the main themes of the program is that it is crucial to give kids freedom to make choices and then experience the natural consequences of those choices.
That sounds good when the consequences are things like no dessert or missing out on a sleepover, but it is much harder to watch your kids make a bad choice if it means failing a class, or getting suspended, or facing a life-altering consequence.
My wife was much better at seeing the bigger picture, whereas I often wanted to be the rescuer (aka the hero).
So how do you know when to intervene and rescue, versus when to let your kids (or family, or friends, or employees) fail? When does being heroic actually become a hindrance?
I don’t have the perfect formula. However, before you decide to jump into a situation as the hero, ask yourself these simple questions:
Is the person's life in danger? (If so, definitely be the hero.)
Would stepping in hinder the person’s growth?
Might the pain of the situation be helpful for the individual in the future?
Have I had to intervene for this person multiple times?
What action will help the person take responsibility, both now and in the future?
Do I have a pattern of rescuing people?
Who will be the hero in this situation? (If it is me, I need to think twice about my approach.)
It feels good to help people, but the more we can let them deal with hardship, the more they will develop and grow as the hero of their own lives. In turn, we will learn healthy boundaries around taking responsibility for ourselves and not for everyone else.
Let’s lead ourselves well—and help others lead themselves well—by wisely choosing when to play the hero.