Social Question

nikipedia's avatar

What do you think about helping a person who put him/herself in a bad situation?

Asked by nikipedia (28045points) April 12th, 2012

I am really interested in ideas about choice, consciousness, free will, and personal responsibility. Let me leave this question as the general version for now, although I can give specific examples:

Suppose you know someone who has put him/herself into a bad situation and needs help. It is easy for you to help this person—let’s say it will cost you some time/money/resources, but ones you can easily spare—but it was clearly a poor decision on the other person’s part that caused the problem in the first place.

Do you help the person just because you can? Refuse to help out of a sense of righteousness/justice? Do it reluctantly? Enthusiastically? With a lecture? With promises the person won’t do it again? On other conditions?

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47 Answers

bkcunningham's avatar

It would depend on how many strikes this person has against them in regards to repetitive behavior of the sort that got them in the situation they are asking me to help them get through.

janbb's avatar

It depends totally on how much I care about the person and where I think they are in their life. I just offered to lend money to a friend who is a student and poverty stricken even though I know he wastes money on extravagent groceries. If itwre a child of mine, I might have to include a lecture but it would also depend on what I think they had learned from the situation themselves.

(And thank you @niki)!

marinelife's avatar

If it is the first time the person has put themselves in that position then I help them along with a discussion so I can see that they understand the consequences of their actions.

Trillian's avatar

Too many variables. Can I afford the help? How close to the person am I? My time is as valuable a resource to me as money. How much of that is it going to cost me?
Sorry, each case would be different, for me anyway.

augustlan's avatar

If it’s a person who is close to me, I help. Unless it’s one of my children, there will be no lecture at that moment, but a talk may be in order later, after the situation has been resolved. For instance, if it’s a person who repeatedly gets themselves into similar situations, then I would probably have a serious discussion about it, and possibly tell them that I wouldn’t always be able to help them in the future.

nikipedia's avatar

Ok, let me give a still-general sample case to work with.

I have a coworker who has 4 kids—her choice, no one forced her to have them. But this means she sometimes needs extra help with stuff, or special accommodations to be made for her. Some coworkers are happy to help her out; others not so much. So in a situation like this, would you be ok with doing a little extra work (assuming you’re not overloaded), or coming in a little earlier or staying a little later (assuming you don’t have anywhere special to be) just to help out? Or would you think, forget it, that’s her problem?

marinelife's avatar

@nikipedia In that specific example, I would help. And there would be no lecture. The children now exist. So, I feel OK helping someone whose burden is larger than mine. I also feel no judgment about her decision (if it was a decision) to have four kids.

augustlan's avatar

In that situation, I’d be happy to help on occasion. I might start to feel put-upon if it happened all the time, though.

john65pennington's avatar

Having her children is water under the bridge. They are here and she needs a little assistance. If you are convinced her children are okay and taken care of, I would assist her in any way I could. Each time you help someone in a situation, the good Lord will bring back blessings for your threefold.

I know this is not the answer you are seeking, but just help the lady. You could have a situation one day and hopefully some coworkers will come to your aid.

In the police business, this occurs everyday. We have each others’s back.

SpatzieLover's avatar

I have helped in situations very similar to the one you illustrated @nikipedia. I do so gladly and freely, until or unless the person begins taking advantage of the help.

Example: The mom in your situation then begins wanting a specific night so she can go and “have a girls night” regularly or begins assuming others will ‘pick up her slack’ when she has to do dentists visits or what have you.

It’s one thing for someone to have your back, and IMO, another to begin walking on people to get out of doing things yourself. There’s a fine line that needs to be established between all in the office.

jca's avatar

I have lent money to people that I knew were using it for the wrong reasons. However, a few occasions and not getting paid back was enough for me, and I would start avoiding or saying no. I have given used clothing to people I worked with who were in a bad condition financially, for various reasons, too numerous to go into. I am happy to help if it’s not money out of my pocket. I would gladly give the used stuff to someone who is appreciative. I am not so eager to give good stuff to someone who is not going to use it. So to answer the question directly, it all depends on who, what, how, and how much.

Blackberry's avatar

Help once or twice, but I can’t continue to help a repeat offender, in general.

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] This is our Question of the Day!

6rant6's avatar

I’ve certainly put myself in bad situations. And I appreciate being helped. Why wouldn’t I do the same for others?

Obviously, there may come a point at which you say, what I am doing doesn’t seem to make any long term difference. I often ask myself what I would feel okay about contributing. I ask them if that help would do any good. No one ever thinks that help offered isn’t enough, as far as I can remember.

I guess I’m inclined to think the value in my life is about being able to help, not in keeping all my time and resources for myself. The all-together people don’t need help. So people who screw up (a little) provide me some opportunity. The fact that they got themselves there – it’s kind of a requirement.

tom_g's avatar

@nikipedia: “I am really interested in ideas about choice, consciousness, free will, and personal responsibility.”

I think this is a great question and framed in a way that really makes it challenging. Like a lot of things, I think this question has layers. Some of the terms you describe (free will, for example) has an “everyday” meaning and then a more complex meaning. If free will in the deepest sense is an illusion, then the question certainly takes on a new meaning. I’ll leave the free will question out of it, however. I am not well read enough in this area to have an informed opinion. Although I do know that it’s a controversial subject – especially in neuroscience.

But we do make judgments about a persons’ decisions as though they have free will. So, in that context I am like many people in that I have a tendency to have more sympathy for those who have found themselves in situations that were not the result of their decisions. I say this as someone who is just one big 40-year-long series of bad decisions.

nikipedia's avatar

But I’m guessing that if a coworker needed extra help because of, say, a drug problem, answers would be different?

What about an intermediate state—suppose she has a health condition (e.g., cancer), but it was caused by poor choices (e.g., smoking)?

SpatzieLover's avatar

I’ve helped people in all of these types of situations @nikipedia. I work diligently on not judging what caused the need for assistance. When there is a need, I serve if I can.

Possibly this has more to do with how I was raised. Just because my dad was an alcholic didn’t make him less desirable to assist. Or just because a co-worker had a tendency to drink on the weekends didn’t make him less of a skilled maintenance man. Both of these men were examples of diligent workers, just poor personal decision makers.

We all have flaws. Some people’s flaws are just more visible than others.

Trillian's avatar

@nikipedia I wish I were a good enough person to answer you with a cleaner conscience. I try to live my life according to the precepts spoken by Kahlin Gibran. Sometimes I need an outsider to point it out to me when I fall short. Thank you.

augustlan's avatar

My answer is pretty much the same, no matter what decisions led to the person needing help. I think withholding help because you disapprove of the person’s actions is kind of vindictive. Again, to me, my cut off would come if it was happening so often as to have a negative impact on my life or well-being.

jca's avatar

@nikipedia: I think it’s a hard thing to answer specifically (for me to answer at least) unless I were in the specific situation. For example, if a coworker wanted me to hand her $10 per day (or even every other day) to pay for her cigarettes, it wouldn’t have anything to do with my dislike of smoking or knowing what smoke is doing to her, it would be more of “am I paying for this woman’s habit? If she can’t afford it, I am not expected to pay for it. I wouldn’t smoke it I had to pay this amount for this habit.” If someone came to me and wanted that same amount of money every day or even every other day because they could not afford gas, or could not afford to pay for public transportation, I would have to put a stop to it after a few times. If they paid me back, I would probably be more willing to continue, but if not, I have my own bills to pay and I need to try to save my own money.

nikipedia's avatar

@tom_g, if we accept the premise that free will is an illusion (a big “if!”), then I guess choosing whether to help the person making the bad choice is also not really up to us!

Coloma's avatar

If you are not able to freely “help” without feeling the need to judge, condemn, or otherwise assert your ego as to how you are right and the other is wrong for their choices/circumstance, then no. The “price” of heaping insult after injury is too big a price IMO.
The past is past, and either you help in a way that the present moment calls for or you do not.
An ex smoker may still come down with a health issue but this doesn;t mean they do not deserve care and support in the NOW!
I agree 100% with @SpatzielLover. If your ego needs to feel self righteous whatever you “give” is already tainted and therefore not truly “given” in the spirit of shared humanity.

Just because one does not think that their mistakes, poor decisions are somehow comparable to anothers makes no difference.
If I were in need of help for whatever reason and felt that my benefactor was holding me in contempt, I’d refuse the “help” because it is certainly not being given in a spirit of kindredness. The ” there but for the grace of God go I” mantra.

We always must be prudent in our egos desire to feel “superior.”
Just like the old saying of ” if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”..well…if you can’t genuinely GIVE ( no strings attached ) without feeling self righteous, your “giving” is best left unexpressed.

I’m not advocating enabling behavior, but I am advocating compassion without judgement and if you can’t do that, then your “giving” is already tainted and therefore rendered moot IMO.

tom_g's avatar

@nikipedia – This hurts my head – but in a good way. I need to look into this free will stuff more. It’s been in my todo list.

jca's avatar

I am feeling confused as to the difference between helping and enabling.

SpatzieLover's avatar

Enabling: You allow yourself to be used.

Helping: You serve in the way you choose at the times of your choice of your own free will.

Coloma's avatar


“Enabling” would be to support, either emotionally or financially anothers addictions or dysfunctional behaviors.

“Helping” would be to help.

If say an addict loses everything to their addiction yet remains sober and striving for a better life, then helping them at this point would not be enabling, it would be a leg up and an act of altruism and forgiveness.

jca's avatar

OK so where I am lost is with, say, someone wanting me to give them cigarette money on a daily or every other day basis. I would do it a few times, and then my good feelings and wanting to help out my fellow man and all that other good stuff and happy feelings would go out the window. It’s great to want to help people, but I need to help myself, too. I need stuff done, I have a child, etc. So I am lost as to, if I were not willing to help out lending (giving) money to someone to support their habit (nicotine or whatever) is it cruel of me or is it me prioritizing that my needs (need to save, need to take care of my family, me not able to hand out cash to everyone) come first?

SpatzieLover's avatar

I wouldn’t outright give someone cig money. That’s my personal stance, though. I’d gladly help them gain money by allowing the person to do odd jobs for me, or by starting a collection for them during a difficult financial time.

If someone first asked, “Hey, can I borrow a ten spot? I’m short this week.” I’d probably hand the money over. If the person just wanted financial handout, continually, it’d be a “no” for me.

We have a pseudo family member (we’ve known his entire family for generations and he lives down the road from our tavern) in a bad spot. He lost his job a couple of years ago, and is now in no place healthwise to ever gain real employment again. It will be years before he gets SS.

What we do to help:
– we feed him breakfast daily
– we give him a weekly list of odd jobs he gets cash for
– give him gift cards for groceries & buy him pantry goods
– offer to assist on his property if a project is too big for one person to accomplish
– remind others in the community he needs assistance (luckily he’s a nice guy, so many others bring him weekly meals and groceries)

Now, he does smoke & drink. He spends his cash on his habits. Other customers will offer to buy him a beer or will ask us to add a pack of cigs to their tab. Occassionally a friend of his will take him a case of beer and a carton of cigs. Usually he’s done some sort of work for the friend.

Coloma's avatar

@jca You can’t give what you don’t have. We must care for ourselves first, true.
Buying cigarettes for another is not your habit or responsibility to support but if you can overlook your egos desire to be right, then maybe you could give the person a pack of cigarettes in a genuine manner that says you do not begrudge them their pleasure.
This reminds me of my pet peeve about people who “give” to the homeless, but ONLY in a manner which they can CONTROL.

I give because I want to give and I don’t care what the person does with the cash after that. If they want to buy food, great, if they want to buy a bottle of booze, their choice.
Giving is not control. As soon as we stipulate criteria for our giving we have crossed the line into controlling behavior which is the polar opposite of true giving.

How is a smokers habit any worse than a control freaks need to control?

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@nikipedia In the “parent needs help” situation you mentioned above, I would be happy to help, unless it got to a point where I felt used or taken advantage of.

nikipedia's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate, not the addict though?

SpatzieLover's avatar

@jca if this is the habit of a co-worker or friend, and it was me, I’d probably buy a carton of the smokes and keep them on hand. Then give them a pack or two when they asked. We get cartons for less than other people though, as we buy in bulk

jca's avatar

@SpatzieLover: I work in a place with at least 100 people on the floor. If I did that and word got out I was handing out free cigs out of feeling generous, I would be broke!

SpatzieLover's avatar

@jca This is a co-worker, then? I’d probably make it known that helping once was no indication that you are in a position to help frequently. Then I’d discuss the fact that I have a multitude of bills just like everyone else, and helped the one time because “I know what it’s like to be in a dire situation”.

I was just messaging with one of my husband’s cousins. She always makes a point of telling me how bad off she is financially. She then goes into a pity-party woe is me about having a special needs kid. I never stoop to her level. (I also have bills, a special needs kid…and husband, and I have a home & a mom to support, besides businesses..yada yada) I just put the kibosh on it by saying “At this time, I don’t know anyone that isn’t concerned with bills” and wished her a great day.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@nikipedia No, not the addict. I have my own vices, and can’t afford to support someone else’s. =0)

SpatzieLover's avatar


jca's avatar

@SpatzieLover: No, just hypothetical. Just doing a “what if?”

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I don’t mind helping anyone who can use it in a situation like your workplace example as long as it doesn’t become expected or I feel taken advantage of. If at any point I start to feel like I have to apologize for turning down someone who wants accommodation or coverage then I look closer at the situation and weigh if it’s a good thing going on.

SuperMouse's avatar

I would not support anyone’s drug, cigarette, or alcohol addiction. This isn’t as much about judging their situation, it is more any issue of “things are tough all over” and in some situations anything but the necessities need to go and I just can’t wrap my mind around alcohol or cigarettes being a necessity. I would offer the opportunity to earn money and of course the person is free to do whatever they will with it.

In the case of the working mom, I would be willing to help out as needed but as many have said before me, if it became habit I would begin to feel resentful and put a stop to it.

In a situation where an individual has gotten themselves into some kind of trouble and needs a helping hand to get out I would lend the hand. I would discuss the situation thoroughly, the choices that led them into the situation, and be sure they have a plan of action in place to keep it from happening again.

When a person continues to make choices that cause negative ramifications in their life, continually bailing that person out is selling them a bad bill of goods. I would be there as much as I could to support them making better decisions but there is no way I could enable them to continue to make choices that mess up their life.

tinyfaery's avatar

I’d help pretty much anyone. I do however have a prejudice against people who expect special treatment because they have kids. I’ve been forced to do things to “help” many a coworker. And by help I mean do their job for them.

Moegitto's avatar

Awesome question, one which I believe we may share a common ground. I’ll respond with my personal experience then add my two cents:

I was in the Army, and as we all know we deploy. While deployed we ALL make the same extra benefits (money). We get back safe and sound, many financial choices. Many soldiers go out and spend upwards of $20,000 on a new vehicle. We used to hang out on the barracks front steps and drink/grill/talk. There was always someone that would come out and ask to borrow money, we ALL just earned pretty much the same amount of money. So why is it that one person (actually more than one but this is a part-example) is already broke? It was 2009, I bought a 2004 Ford Explorer. Something that would get me around, had space to carry all my TA-50 (Army term for our gear), and possibly fit a bunch of my friends. I chose to get something to my needs while other people chose strictly to impress people. There isn’t a snowballs chance in hell I would give someone money that I earned in the same way you did but chose to save it wisely, you chose to impress people and now you can’t afford to get a combo at Burger King? Lesson learned I hope…

My two cents: under certain circumstances I will help (family/car troubles/legal matters), but if you make a bone head decision (buy a car with a 22% APR loan and can’t afford to feed yourself) then you’re out of luck with me. I don’t try to mean but if you read the paper there are a lot of people that get killed trying to help people, these are trying times in our crazy world. There will always be a saying that I took from the military that I respected to death: Live according to your means.

bkcunningham's avatar

Because you made better choices, @Moegitto. Nothing to be assumed of IMHO/

CaptainHarley's avatar

What, you never made a mistake??

jazmina88's avatar

in my old age, I cant afford to help others, emotionally or financially.

I have seen so many folks take advantage of my heart that I’m closin up shop and protecting myself.

There are givers, takers and drama queens, and just plain trouble. Be careful and expect nothing back.

Moegitto's avatar

A mistake is walking into a bar that doesn’t serve the particular beer you want. If you go on about doing things without planning what happens AFTER then you caused it for yourself. I wouldn’t let a friend’s kids starve or anything but I’ve been through enough situations where a person got themselves into some form of trouble.

Example 2:
A friend asks me to drive him to his girlfriends house so they can hang out an watch movies. Two hours later I get a call to come pick him up, as soon as I get there he’s jumping out of the second floor window with only jeans on. Come to find out the girl was married and her husband came home for leave from Iraq. This is what he told me as we were driving away. The husband wrote down MY tag number and called the MP’s (Military Police) on me, so I had to explain to them that I was picking up my friend from her house. The wife told her husband my friend broke into their house and tried to rape her so she could avoid getting in trouble with her husband. He knew she was married, we didn’t. He ended up getting in trouble (my friend) and there was nothing he could do because in the military most cases like that end up with the assaulted (even if it never happened) winning.

Case in point, I make a mistake and get myself out of it. I don’t depend on people to get me out of something I KNOW I shouldn’t have done.

jca's avatar

Bottom line is I can help someone if they pay me back. One or two occasions of not getting paid back and I can’t keep doing it. In the hypothetical example of giving a fellow coworker cigarette money, part of the reason I don’t smoke, other than that I think it’s gross and it’s unhealthy, is I could not afford to smoke, especially at today’s cigarette prices. If I can’t afford it, I certainly can’t afford to support someone else’s habit, nor should I be expected to.

6rant6's avatar

@Moegitto One time I was in the backyard grilling with my homies, and this huge explosion occurred in the field next door. So I went over to look cause my buddies was all like, “You should go look, cause you’ve got the magic wand.” So went over and there was like this mashed up trashcan and there was an arm sticking out and moving a little. And my buddies was like, “Hey, just leave it!” but I could see the arm was trying to get out. So I pulled on it and it turned out to be a fairy princess in a crashed spaceship. And she stood up and gave me three wishes. So now I have my own shooting range, and my own Burger King, and a lifetime pass to the Chicken Ranch and a house full of popcorn and I text with Miley Cyrus all the time. But sometimes, I just make stuff up, too.

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