To the extent that we are social animals, we all have an urge to help. The problem is that we also have a common weakness — perhaps, paradoxically, an expression of our lust for power — for confusing helping with “making the problem go away.” Nietzsche observes, in The Gay Science, that the “religion of pity” thrives on the self-important air of the helpers who “believe that they have helped most when they have helped most quickly” (Book Four, §338, Kauffmann translation). Another way to state this: The feeling of having helped is often so much of what a man craves when he offers assistance — that is, he wishes to feel powerful as one who stands above the sufferer, dispensing pity and solutions in equal measure.

One who is truly lost, truly in need, truly suffering — which is to say, truly living as a soul in development — is precisely the person for whose sake helping cannot mean providing answers. The only way out of genuine suffering is through suffering. The only way to escape spiritual pain is to finish experiencing it, as deeply and terribly as the context — including the context of the individual’s current evolution — warrants. Freedom has no free pass; no tunnel cut through mountains avails one on a quest to overcome. The drinker or drug user does not avoid the source of his pain, but only avoids the essential task of learning to face that source without fear. Similarly, the helper who would serve as a befogging dose of immediate comfort to the object of his pity merely entraps his supposed beneficiary in a spiral of (superficially mollified) suffering. 

This form of help-as-entrapment is the rule, rather than the exception, in political affairs, as well as in large-scale “social improvement” projects of any kind. But it is likely just as common in the politics of personal life, where its effects may be even more pernicious, insofar as both benefactor and beneficiary are more naturally inclined to favor one another, and therefore less able to perceive the mixed motives, and the potential for harm, in the urge to “help most quickly.”

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