Monday, August 24, 2015

Enable is Not a Four Letter Word

The word enable has come to have very negative connotations in part because of its association with the recovery community.  There the word enable is all about keeping the addict from facing the true consequences of their addiction. It has spread outside the world of Alcoholics Anonymous and into other worlds, such as our discussions of social welfare programs and the concern that too much help leads to dependence and that we must be particularly leery of giving too much help to those who are poor or struggling.  There is an assumption that when it comes to money we should all be able to make it on our own with a few exceptions for the "truly" ill and disabled or elderly. Yet even here the assumption is that people would rather not work than work, that the poor and struggling are some how more lazy then the rest of us, more inclined to take advantage, less interested in doing for themselves.

Yet the meaning of the word enable is about making possible. It is about making it possible for something else to happen.  So when we enable another person, it is also about making it possible for them to do something they could not otherwise do.  This in and of itself is not a bad thing.  It can be an opening to possibility, it can be about providing a necessary thing for the person to be empowered to move forward, to move toward greater self-sufficiency. The challenge of course is when is our enabling helpful and when is it harmful.  There are no clear rules and each context and person is different.  Yet in this economy I think we have to start erring more on enabling and less on withholding our help and support.

Let us use for example, the life of J.K. Rowling.  J.K. Rowling is now a successful and wealthy author. She wrote the brilliant Harry Potter series which has touched adults and children alike.  Each book was made into a very successful movie - it was groundbreaking. Yet when she started writing she was on public assistance.  She wrote much of the first book in cafes.  Now in this country most public assistance would not allow a similar situation to occur here.  Yet without the generosity of the economic safety net of Great Britain, the Harry Potter books might not exist and let's face it Great Britain has by now collected far more in taxes from J.K. Rowling than they ever paid out in benefits to her.

What if we saw our public assistance or even our private assistance as ways to truly enable others? What if instead of asking what is the bare minimum, we saw our efforts as truly lifting people to a new place?  What if we took away shame and stigma and replaced it with an attitude of that all of us at one time or another is going to need something from others that we cannot do for ourselves? For some that help maybe in terms of money, others it may be learning a new skill, or a listening ear, or help moving.

Our emphasis on being independent and self-sufficient has gotten to the point where asking for or accepting any kind of assistance is something to be ashamed of, something not to be repeated.  Yet we are not self-created, self-sustaining beings. We need each other and we impact each other all the time.  Our individual choices are not independent - they have impact on others for good and ill.  All of us will find ourselves in need of help at different times of our lives whether when we are young and need caring adults or when we become ill or injured or get older.  We need each other to find and do work in the world.  Any job search book will tell you that networking with others is the single number one thing we can do to find a job. It is not just about finding job listings and sending out resumes even though that is what most people think of when they think of job hunting. I was just asked how many resumes I have sent out for my job search and yet I was not asked how many connections have I made, how have I reached out to my network - yet coaches, job advice boards will tell you it is not about the number of jobs I apply to but about the connections I make with others.  Making those connections is about asking others to enable you to find the connection to a job.  The most effective job search tool is all about asking others to enable someone to find a new job.

I think the key question to ask is "will this action on my part enable this person to greater self-sufficiency or am I doing something they could do for themselves?"  Of course we have to know whether or not the person can do it on their own. Saying to the person who has no money and no job - I won't help you because you "should" do this for yourself when they have nothing is asking for the impossible.  Telling someone who is in constant pain but may look 'normal' to you that they should be working 8 hours a day only adds to the depression and struggle of their everyday life.  This is not always about what we think someone should be able to do but rather we need to truly see the person and the situation as they truly are in the present moment and then ask will my help hurt or harm.  We may get it wrong.  I guess I would rather help and get it wrong, then not help and get it wrong. I prefer to presume the best in others and hang in there with them.  I know how good it feels both to receive needed help and to give it.  When we make enabling a bad thing then we take away the joy in giving and being needed.
Let's stop making the word enable a bad word and let's instead take the words of the song "Lean on Me"to heart remembering that we ALL need someone to lean on.

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