Your Helping Could Be Hurting Someone

Sep 28, 2020

I have long been an advocate for the role of pain and suffering in growth. It's not a masochistic approach, for I truly hate "pain for pain's sake." And besides, not all pain produces growth. Some pain is just useless suffering and produces nothing helpful at all. I hate it when I see people putting up with needless suffering and saying that it is somehow building patience or character. The passivity that allows pain to continue for no reason is not character.

But, there is struggle, effort, and painful effort, that does indeed produce growth and is good for us. Muscle building is like that. You lift weights and it hurts. It's a painful strain, and your muscles are sore for a day or two. But as the scientists tell us, the tearing down of muscle allows them to come back stronger and bigger, and that is pain that produces growth. Similarly, facing grief can resolve depression or other emotional problems. Facing trauma can resolve PTSD. And good effort builds endurance. Embracing pain and effort can be beneficial for sure.

Which gets me to the point, and one that I got to learn all over again in Tuscany. My team and I were in Europe a few years ago for a project, and we were in a famous vineyard in Tuscany with one of the world's most renowned winemakers, Axel Heinz, maker of a wine that won an award for best in the world. I flew there to interview him about the science of "pruning" and how it works. Pruning is a process whereby the vine is cut back, even some very healthy branches, so that the best ones can have all of the resources. Also, branches and parts of the vine that are very sick and not going to recover, are pruned away as well, so as to not infect the rest of the vine and vineyard. We were in a great conversation about how pruning makes the vine prosper and yield the best grapes when he made a random comment that rocked me.

My colleague, Jennifer, asked him about irrigation and he said something to the effect of, "Irrigating can help the vine too much. When the vine does not have to work for its water, it becomes weak and will not be able to withstand tough weather and other elements. The roots do not have to go down far enough to find water, so the vine fails to build a foundation of strength for more growth and survival in the future. You have to let the vine work to find what it needs and not make it too easy."

"WOW WOW WOW!" was all I could think. What a lesson from nature that so applies to all of life, for as we hear all the time, people do not grow or achieve without effort, and the effort is actually good for us. I love the lessons that creation can teach us. It is why I so often use metaphors from nature, such as pruning, seasons, and the like. But this one, about the vine needing to work for its water, just confirmed that reality all over again. I loved hearing it.

So, think about it.

First, for Yourself:

1. What are you desiring in life that means that you might have to endure some painful effort, conflict, or emotional work? A better relationship? Health? Finances? Spiritual growth? Career moves?

2. Are you willing to embrace that effort or pain? Before you answer, remember that just like the vine will not reach its goal if it does not work for it, neither can we. You cannot do the painful work, and not get the fruit at the end. Or, you can do the painful work and achieve what you want. But, you cannot avoid the work and have the fruit. That is the choice we always have.

Second, for Others:

1. Is there someone (friend, partner, sibling, employee, colleague) that you are helping too much and that is keeping them from getting strong? Are you irrigating them so much that their roots do not have to work to get the water they need and thereby fail to become strong? In that case, your "help" is not "helping."

2. Do you love them enough to require them to dig for their water for their own good? Are you willing to have that conversation?

We have all heard terms like "tough love," "enabling" and "codependency" when trying to help others grow. What the vine tells us is that it looks like boundaries are helpful even when trying to grow a vineyard!