Every day we see people in need. Often we want to do something to help.
Whether voting to ensure equal rights for others, donating to the latest flood appeal, or giving up our seat on the bus for a stranger, we are constantly presented opportunities to help others.
Helping, however, can be fraught.
From voluntourism and effective altruism to the Syrian refugee crisis and marriage equality reform, people disagree on the best ways to help, or even whether helping is warranted.
Here are three reasons why helping decisions are difficult and some advice for helping better.
1. Too much empathy
Empathy allows us to feel what others feel. It has a focusing effect—drawing our feeling and response towards the individual who we see suffering.
It’s wonderful that we have the capacity to care about others in this way. Yet the psychological qualities of empathy can cause problems.
For example, studies show that people will donate more to an identifiable victim; or to save the life of one child than two children.
When large numbers of people suffer, our empathy doesn’t know how to relate. As Paul Slovic says: “Numbers represent dry statistics, “human beings with the tears dried off,” that fail to spark emotion or feeling and thus fail to motivate action.”
We can overcome this emotional spotlight by using empathy to guide our care, rather than direct our donation.
For example, when you feel moved by one child’s struggle with cancer, notice how empathy guides your care. Instead of (or in addition to) donating directly to that one family, find a way to give to a hospital or charity that provides that same care to children just like them.
Or when you see images of earthquake devastation that break your heart, consider donating to an emergency relief fund that responds to all disasters, including the one you’ve been moved by.
With this approach, you ensure your empathy moves you to help more people in need, not only the ones you empathise with.
2. Helping can keep others down
Being a helper intrinsically signals power. And how you choose to help can give or take power from others.
People tend to give dependency-oriented help—the total solution to a problem—when they feel the beneficiaries are not highly competent. And people receiving help pick up on this cue.
On the other hand, giving (and receiving) autonomy-oriented help—which helps the beneficiary cultivate skills to help themselves in the long-term—both communicates competence and helps build it.
Consider the best way to help. Sometimes, like after a disaster, it’s important to provide food and shelter directly. Other times, like when communities are trying to build independence in the long-term, it’s better to teach people how to grow more food or build better shelters.
Next time you donate, think about what you can give and what it might communicate in terms of power.
3. Giving what we want to, not what others need
From “Junk for Jesus”, to blood donor preferences, people often give what’s easiest, rather than what makes the biggest difference. This is closely related to the point above—because donors have power to choose what is offered.
The best way to overcome this challenge, and closely related to power, is to simply ask people how you can best help.
Whether we’re allies to disadvantaged groups or donating for international development, the best outcomes in terms of long-term social change will be driven by beneficiaries themselves.
People usually know what will make a difference in their lives. Why not ask?
If you’re donating, do a bit of research and find an organisation that develops their programs through local community engagement. Many international NGOs—like Oxfam and ChildFund—take the lead from the people they serve in communities abroad.
It’s wonderful we’re helping. Let’s take the challenge and help better.
We must keep on helping others. After all, that is the way this world will change.
The most important thing is to do something: do what you can. Give what you can. Help where you can.
Let’s also challenge ourselves to help smarter.
If we start with a positive intention and are willing to step back and examine our feelings and actions, we will make a more positive impact in the world.
- Cassandra Chapman
The annual cost of domestic abuse in Australia is estimated to be over $12.6 billion. That figure doesn’t account for the physical and psychological toll this abuse takes on victims, their friends and families.
The abuse depicted in domestic violence campaigns and on the news might lead people to believe that domestic abuse is men physically abusing women. While this is true in many cases, it fails to reflect the diverse reality of abusive relationships.
In Australia, non-physical violence (14% men, 25% women) in relationships is experienced at higher rates than physical violence (5% men, 16% women) by both males and females.
What is non-physical domestic abuse and why is it important?
Non-physical domestic abuse is any harm inflicted by a past or present romantic partner that is not physical or sexual.
Behaviours like stalking, threats, emotional assaults, belittling comments, and humiliation of the victim are often used to control what their partner wears, where they go, who they see, where they live, what they can buy, where and whether they work, and many other aspects of daily life.
Like physical and sexual abuse, victims of non-physical domestic abuse have poor physical and mental health outcomes.
What you should know about domestic abuse
Abuse can be subtle, especially in the early stages of a relationship. It’s important to remember that many abusers are master manipulators.
Physical and sexual abuse is almost always preceded by non-physical abuse, and even in cases where the abuse never becomes physical, the non-physical abuse typically escalates in severity and overtness over the course of a relationship.
The earlier people become aware of abuse, the less committed they are to the unhealthy relationship which should reduce some of the barriers victims face is the process of leaving an abusive relationship.
Why some victims do not leave their abusive relationship
Leaving a relationship with abuse can be far more difficult and complex than many imagine. Barriers to leaving vary from victim to victim and it’s necessary to be compassionate towards victims. Two common barriers are explored below.
People may not know they’re being abused
This is particularly true for non-physical abuse. Such behaviours can be subtly manipulative and controlling, appearing to stem from jealousy or protective instincts that are often romanticised in popular culture.
For example, the popular Twilight and 50 Shades series idealise jealousy as an often controlling, ‘all consuming’ romance. It’s important to challenge the ideals that may romanticise some forms of abusive and controlling behaviours.
Victims may feel blamed or shamed
Victims are often judged harshly with many people blaming victims for their abuse, especially when they fail to leave the relationship after the first instance of abuse. When victims take on this blame it becomes another barrier to leaving their abuser.
Victim blame may also be related to sexism. Victims who fail to behave in accordance with the traditional gender ideal of either a strong, dominant man, or a nurturing, submissive woman may be more likely to be blamed for their experience of abuse by those who endorse these ideals.
My PhD aims to explore these topics and themes, aiming to empower survivors and to reduce the prevalence of physical and non-physical intimate partner violence.
- Kiara Minto
“Allyship” has recently become a hot topic in the worlds of social justice agitation and movements for greater equality. Movements and campaigns like support for marriage equality and the Black Lives Matter movement, and men’s support for the Women’s March, have highlighted the role allies can play in social movements.
Who are allies?
Allies are people from privileged groups, working together with or on behalf of socially disadvantaged groups, to improve the status and conditions for the latter. Think of White people protesting side by side with Black Lives Matter protestors, men supporting women in demanding equal pay, and straight people joining marches for marriage equality in support of LGBTIQ groups.
Allyship is not a new phenomenon
Researchers have only started discussing allyship in recent years. Yet allies have been around for as long as social movements have. For instance, the suffrage movement in the United States was a movement that was supported by many influential men of the time. Similarly, White politicians were important allies of the African National Congress in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement.
What influences people to act as allies?
Social research shows that people generally tend to favour their own groups and communities. We are rewarded for actions that favour our own groups—perhaps through acceptance, recognition for being a valuable group member, receiving favours when in need, etc. On the flip side, if we favour the interests of other groups or communities, we risk criticism, rejection, suspicion, and ostracism.
Given this context, how do advantaged group allies come to create and sustain support for disadvantaged groups outside of their own group? We identify 5 factors.
1. Normalising influences early in life
Allies tend to have had normalising influences while growing up, in the form of positive parental influence, contact with relatives or members of the community who probably belonged to these socially disadvantaged groups (like having a gay uncle, or a Black teacher), and exposure through popular culture and entertainment.
2. Feeling empathy for disadvantaged people
Allies report feeling empathy towards people they knew who may have identified as gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans, or been a racial minority, and saw them struggling with their identity. Studies show this can happen because of greater abilities for perspective-taking. This empathy also comes from the ability to relate the experiences of people from disadvantaged groups, to their own experiences of distress from being slighted, excluded or discriminated against in some way.
3. Feeling angry about unjust systems
Allies report feeling anger or a feeling of resistance towards people or systems found to be oppressing or bullying the people they know. Research suggests that when new experiences and information challenge their internalised worldview, allies start to experience resistance and rejection of those systems.
4. Having had opportunities to help
Allies tend to have had opportunities to reflect and help. Some have had the chance to directly help disadvantaged groups. Others encountered information that lead to self-reflection on topics of systemic oppression. Perhaps such opportunities for activism arose during high school or university life. Early experience tends to be an important primer to later engagement in allyship.
5. Supporting progressive values
Allies tend to have liberal or progressive values and a pluralistic orientation. They are lower on sexual prejudice, and religiosity. Allies typically have a broad orientation towards egalitarianism and fairness, even if they have not had contact with people different from themselves. This orientation is strengthened through exposure to diverse people, new information, and opportunities to help. With time, they are able to integrate or become comfortable with accepting multiple views of the world, and apply that to their understanding of complex concepts of privilege, oppression, and the existence of multiple social identities and realities.
Do you recognise any of these characteristics and themes in your own journey as an ally? Feel free to comment and tell us more. Understanding the nature of allyship is at the heart of my ongoing PhD research.
Evaluating community programs to maximize impact and efficiency
Around the world, thousands of organizations run programs aimed at helping people: development agencies try to lift communities out of poverty; rehabilitation programs aim to support addicts to reclaim control of their lives; youth programs want at-risk kids to get the best start in life.
Whatever the mission, community programs are trying to make a difference.
Money is invested by governments, by foundations, by people like you and I, because we want to see these programs succeed. But do they? Are we sure they work?
For years, across all areas of social work, there has been growing pressure to evaluate community programs and ensure they are effective. Randomized control trials help us to see if positive change is occurring over time by comparing people who participate in programs and those who do not.
Such research tells us if people taking part in the program are, as a result, more able to feed their children, less likely to relapse into drug abuse, or more likely to stay in school.
Evaluations that tell us if a program works are essential. They give donors confidence and ensure people receive help in a way that works. “Black box” evaluations measure variables of interest—like malnutrition rates, drug use, or school attendance—before and after an intervention, to see if it makes any difference. And many of them do.
A new question is therefore arising: how exactly do they work?
Researchers and practitioners now want to measure aspects within an intervention to understand how it works. And to see if it works in the way it should.
With some colleagues in New Zealand, and in partnership with the Graeme Dingle Foundation, we used data from an evaluation of Project K, a youth development program, to ask just this kind of question.
Project K consists of three components over the course of 14 months—an outdoor adventure experience where young people learn skills, teamwork, and leadership; a community service project to address a need within their local community; and a mentoring partnership with a supportive adult. A previous control trial evaluation of Project K showed that participants significantly improve in social resources (connectedness with others, sense of belonging in their community, and their social skills and self-beliefs) because of the program. Now we wanted to know how the program achieved such social gains.
Our analysis showed that adolescents who had positive experiences in the outdoor adventure and the mentoring components of Project K showed the greatest progress. Their experiences in the community service aspect did not contribute to their social development.
Such results highlight the value of evaluating not just if community programs work but how they do. Project K staff gained valuable knowledge from the research that allowed them to change the program to ensure it was as effective as possible for the young people they serve. And as efficient as possible with the resources their funders entrust them with.
This is the value of effective research: knowledge gleaned can help you do more good for more people with less money.
- Cassandra Chapman
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Chapman, C.M., Deane, K.L., Harré, N., Courtney, M.G.R., & Moore, J. (2017). Engagement and mentor support as drivers of social development in the Project K youth development program. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 1-12. doi:10.1007/s10964-017-0640-5.
Read the full research report online: http://rdcu.be/oWIW
All researchers in the Social Change Lab contribute to the "Do Good" blog. Click the author's name at the bottom of any post to learn more about their research or get in touch.