Many people make their mark on the world and establish their financial security before considering how to give back. Others feel a strong pull to dedicate themselves to service quite early in life.
Young climate activist Greta Thunberg, now 16 years of age, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize last year for her peaceful protests that have sparked a movement among young people worldwide to raise awareness of the need for international leaders to unite in responding to climate change.
However and whenever our aspiration to help others may arise, the most important thing is that we have a clear sense about how to do this skillfully.
Helping Others Requires Skill
What is the “skill set” that allows us to develop clarity about helping others? How can we engage in acts of kindness or service wisely, so that our actions are truly effective?
Our entire planet is sustained through an Intricate symphony of interdependent activity, engaged in providing constant help and support of our lives and the lives of all beings. Yet the art and skill of effectively offering help may be the most often overlooked knowledge throughout human history.
First, we need to recognize how the law of cause and effect is operating — at all times!
When I first heard the saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” I wondered how that could be the case. Later on, though, I learned three essential components to accomplishing any outcome, and suddenly this old saying made perfect sense.
The 3 Essential Skills to Bring About A Positive Outcome
Each of the elements below is essential to manifest any truly helpful result. Each is a skill, because each one requires thoughtful contemplation that clarifies the intention of your desired outcome, ensures it is worth pursuing, and sets you on an effective course of action.
Skill #1. Pure motivation. You have no competing agendas. You are simply, selflessly inspired to help. Not expecting any reward or accolade, your mind is clear, free to focus on how best to apply your energy and attention.
Skill #2: Worthy goal. What you intend to do will truly benefit yourself and others. You have looked into the issue and discovered how you can help to bring about this positive outcome.
Looks like we are off to a very good start! It may even seem as though we already have all of the helpful elements we need. If you have a pure intention and a worthy goal, what could go wrong?
But before we discuss #3, let’s step back a moment.
I’m in Seattle. One day my heart swells with an inspiration to visit my oldest friend in New York City whom I haven’t seen in decades, and we are both looking forward with joyful anticipation to reconnecting.
So far I have two of the three necessary components for accomplishing my goal of a friendly reunion.
I jump in my car and head off with such joyful unbridled enthusiasm. I’m so excited to see my old friend, Anthony, that I don’t even notice I am taking I-5 South highway instead of I-90 East. I continue blissfully driving in this direction and end up in Los Angeles, not in New York City. At that point some might say I had driven into hell, or at least into hellish traffic. But before we start debating whether the traffic is worse in LA or NYC, let’s look at the third essential element for accomplishing a goal.
Skill #3: Right Action. You make the right choices, which depend on understanding the law of causality, of cause and effect. If I’m going to stay off the road to hell, my good intentions need to be mixed with skill and awareness.
A Good Beginning: 4 Steps to Helping Others
1. Pick the proper seed of motivation. Sometimes it can be quite a challenge to obtain the fruit, the helpful result, that we want. Check to be sure the seed is good and that it really will grow the fruit you intend. Examine the information closely about this fruit you think you want. If we choose to grow a fruit we have never tasted before, thinking it is “good” based only on hearsay, we may get a big disappointment when we taste the real thing. Consider the cautionary tale of plastic bag bans, which inadvertently had a net result of increased greenhouse gas emissions!
2. Learn how to prepare the ground to encourage growth and fruition. Before you begin trying to help, do your research. Consider how and when to plant your seed of motivation, how to protect and nurture the seed, and how to direct the growth of the young sprout. How do we keep pests away from this new sprout without spreading toxins? How do we keep critters from nibbling at this immature tender plant?
3. Check for signs of unintended consequences. We thought our forests and adjacent farms would be safer and more peaceful for ourselves and the animals if we got rid of all the vicious wolves. Over a relatively short period of time we saw the forests and animals become unhealthy. Reintroducing wolves that we once thought of as the source of the problem actually caused every aspect of the forests to flourish again, even restoring rivers!
4. Cultivate a long term awareness. Events don’t begin and end according to our arbitrary definitions. A longterm ecological perspective is essential to success in every area of life. I admire the Native Americans’ way of making decisions, mindful of the effects of their actions on the next seven generations to come. I have also heard that China currently is operating in accord with a 1000-year plan, while America operates from one tweet to the next!
When we accomplish an outcome that truly succeeds in being helpful, it isn’t magic. It is a direct result of our fulfillment of the 3 essential skills for helping others: a good clear intention, a good goal, and good skillful action — as well as engaging skillfully, with circumspect awareness, right from the beginning.