Can I Help You?

Can I help you?” is an often-asked question, yet helping can cause unintended harm; that realization places us at a moral crossroads: do we “help” or do we walk a road less travelled? A foundational premise of this blog is the idea that how we have traditionally shown up in the world can be redefined towards a more liberating way of being in relationship with others. Traditional “helping” tends to come from a place of sympathy not empathy, and a sense of misplaced responsibility. I believe that responsibility properly understood is the ability to respond empathetically, recognising it is a gift received from the other, to whom you are responding. Over the years, in this and other spaces I have suggested – in different ways – that three dominant styles of helping are applied: (1) doing things to individuals and/or their communities (the medical model), (2) doing things for individuals/communities (the charity model), and (3) doing things with individuals/communities (co-design and co-production).

On their own, the first two have caused top-down technocratic, institutional and service-oriented approaches to dominate since the New Deal and the Marshall Plan. If citizen-centred democracy is to flourish, we must nurture new space for bottom-up, citizen-led action for the things that are done collectively, not just WITH citizens and agencies working together, but BY them as creators, mutual makers, and co-producers with their neighbors. This is the lower-right panel in Figure 1 (the BY space), a domain that has more to do with curiosity and discovery than helping or healing. Here citizens don’t have a say, they have the say, and they are the prime producers of whatever outputs emerge. In other words there are things that they must do as a collective, that if they don’t, no other external actor can do for them.


Figure 1

Done TO Communities

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Everything done is to us and without us.

Done FOR Communities

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Everything done is done for us, without us.

Done WITH Communities

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Nothing done for us is done without us.

Done BY Communities

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Done by us for us.

The primary assertion of Nurture Development’s work and philosophy is that it is only by committing to the discovery and enhancement of the BY space – what citizens can do themselves alone – that we can make sense of where outside collaboration is warranted. Democracy flourishes not by the growth of top-down services (even ones that are delivered collaboratively), but by the enhancement of freedom for all from the grassroots up.

Cormac Russell

 

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