From Family to Fledglings: Exploring Why We Help
Plus some exciting news for me
“Help is the sunny side of control.”
This Anne Lamott quote really hit me a few years ago, probably because there was a flash of recognition in it. Had I been “helping” too much when it came to certain friends and family members? Or possibly in the wrong ways?
Don’t get me wrong. Helping is typically a good thing. With this week’s horrible news, it’s hard not to think about Fred Rogers saying, “Look for the helpers.” Helping is good. There are lots of times that we’ve got to be there for one another.
Some of you may recall that I recently read Katherine May’s Wintering. (Here’s my post about that.) May asserts that helping those in need is a sort of social glue, saying, “We flourish on caring, on doling out love.” She writes that helping those most in need of aid is part of what sticks us together. “It’s how we thrive,” says May.
But we have to be honest with ourselves about our motivation (and the potential consequences) when we step in to help. The reason the Lamott quote impacted me is, over the course of decades, I developed a pattern of trying to influence the relationships of some family members. I wanted them to have better relationships with each other. There were other times I wanted to help open up opportunities for them. I’m being intentionally vague on the details because the stories aren’t mine to share. But what I eventually learned is you can’t change other people. And you certainly can’t orchestrate their relationships. When I realized this, it created space for me to tend to my own relationships and my own self. It was freeing and enabled me to start building some new patterns.
One of the things I learned in my professional coaching program relates to this. It’s okay to help (or commit most any act), but we should be aware of our motivations in doing so. I remember as an insecure coach-in-training wanting to reach out to a client shortly after a session. One of my teachers helped me recognize my motive wasn’t really about checking in. Our program taught that people are “naturally resourceful, creative, and whole.” My fully capable client wouldn’t have needed my check-in just days after our session. What was really happening was I was looking for validation from the client. I wanted to know that the session had gone alright. Recognizing my motive was eye-opening. I now use that little nugget of wisdom to assess situations before springing into action…most of the time.
Now for the Fledglings…
Stopping to assess can be particularly useful when we feel compelled to help wild animals. This time of year, I see a lot of photos of birds’ eggs and newly hatched chicks. I enjoy this nearly as much as I do seeing people’s photos of pies pop into my Facebook feed on Thanksgiving day. Sometimes, though, things can go awry with those precious little chicks. I found myself wanting to help an injured fledgling last weekend. Of course, the timing was such that our area wildlife center was closed.
I stood in my in-laws’ driveway considering every possible option. One of the things I read was that most fledglings scooped up by well-intentioned humans are actually bird-knapped. This is your public service announcement for the day. Some baby birds spend a few days living on the ground. Mom and dad are nearby keeping watch and supplying food. If the chick isn’t obviously injured or abandoned, you might want to hold off, as conflicted as you may feel.
As for the injured bird – my injured bird – in the end, I did nothing. I thought its chances of survival might be better in the grass with its parents nearby than in a cardboard box in my living room. I still feel bad about it, because I know it wasn’t an easy time for the bird. The situation reminded me of an article I read when I attended the Aldo Leopold Foundation’s Land Ethic Leaders workshop. Called “On the Rich Sin of Meddling,” the article explores our inclination to intervene and the struggle in deciding whether to. Had only the wildlife center been open, I would not have had to grapple with the decision. And yet, that’s the thing. We are often faced with decisions on how or whether to help. It’s part of being human. If we can manage to help without meddling we are probably getting it (mostly) right.
Announcement: I’m Spending My Summer in Nova Scotia
And now for some GOOD news! Sometime over the winter, I realized all my summer work* could be done from any location. I began to imagine a few months in the Maritimes. When I did my New Year’s reflection in January, I jotted down, “Summer in Atlantic Canada.” It was a dream. Much to my delight, my wife was willing to entertain the notion and the dream is now becoming a reality. We ultimately decided on a small town named Parrsboro, located on the Minas Basin, an inlet of the Bay of Fundy.
We’ll make the drive up next week and are quite looking forward to it. As exciting as it is, getting ready for a multi-month journey, getting our own house ready for summer tenants, and trying to keep on top of work commitments has been A LOT to handle. If you don’t hear from me this week or next, this is probably why. I just keep thinking I’ll push through the next week and look forward to taking a deep sigh when we’re standing there looking out at the bay.
*Since I mentioned my current projects, I thought I’d take a moment to share. This is what’s keeping me captivated these days:
A 10-Year Trail Shared Stewardship Challenge rollout project for the United States Forest Service’s Eastern Region
An assessment of the success of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition
Trail Town framework planning for Central Ohio Greenways
A gravel cycling report for Pennsylvania Environmental Council
A 3-Year Marketing & Communications Plan for the Morgantown Board of Parks and Recreation
Most of these projects are being done in partnership with other consultants and with some really fantastic clients. The projects feel even more rewarding due to the involvement of so many great folks.
That’s all for now, friends. Keep helping (with awareness),