You can’t give free help.. So I have been advised


As a kid who grew up poor in the South Bronx, I benefited from help from extended family members and the kindness of strangers.   As such, I grew up with the mentality that one must, at some point, pay it forward. This is partly why I love mentoring people and helping people learn and move up. I like mentoring, partly because those that are mentored are hungry to learn. For the most part. I have been surprised on occasion when certain individuals shunned mentoring. At times the shunning occured either because they felt they knew it all already or because they felt ashamed. In both of those types of instances, I was disappointed. Then there were those that misunderstood mentoring motivation as mothering or that didn’t view the help as mentoring. Those individuals tended to have other issues at hand.   But I don’t need to dwell on that.


All this to say, that I believe in helping others. And I have always believed in helping others without conditions. Which is why, I was suprised a few months ago when a particular individual (who could ostensibly be seen as a mentor to me) told me to be careful with the type of help that I offered. This individual noted that helping others should be considered an exchange.  She gave me the example of a loan that she made to someone with the caveat that they had to put everything they had (blood, sweat and tears) into their new venture and should not allow himself to be swayed by foolish family members.   They  also had to learn the trade well and when they did she would at some point also become an investor. Fast forward a decade or so and the individual she helped is a mega-millionaire who is seen as an “expert” by those in the field and they are now co-investors. She had warned me that those you help have to have hunger and want to be helped.  She also noted that it is ok to put conditions on your help. She had given this individual various conditions in order to ensure that her help would be helpful.


I listened and took it all in. I left the meeting a few hours later wondering about what she had said. I know for sure that there are times that I have tried to help someone out and they haven’t sees my help as help.  And those situations have been frustrating beyond belief.   There are also those that I have helped and after which they still can’t help themselves. And then there are those that just want help and more help without considering you may, one day, tire of giving more and more help.


I know this may sound tacky or uncouth. You generally help someone out because it is the right thing to do. You see a mother struggling with opening the door while holding her baby-you of course automatically help. Someone falls down and you run to help them up. That is not the type of help I am talking about here, however. My possible mentor noted that she was more than happy to help this person out to whom she made a loan. It was a non-interest bearing loan.  She wanted him to succeed. She believed in him. But she wanted to make sure he believed in himself and that he wouldn’t be distracted along the way.


She noted you have to sometimes let people know that you will help them out but that there are conditions to that help. And she further noted it is ok to have conditions on help. That just blew me away as I never thought about “helping out” that way.  I had received so much help along my life journey. Yet, as I started to think of many of the instances in which I received help, I did realize some of those did have conditions. I just didn’t think of the conditions as conditions. In one instance, I was sick possibly with lyme disease (or so I feared -turns out it was something entirely different). I didn’t have health insurance, as typical of many 20 year olds in the US. A professor heard my health complaint and called up his wife and the next day I was seeing her for a medical visit. Till this day, I can’t recall any payment transaction. It was a nice thing done by a nice couple. Looking back, I realize that the condition was that I was to work hard at my fellowship project. Which I did thereafter. A kind gesture was done so that I could keep on my path of self-enhancement.


This concept is still a bit new to me but it seems akin to the phrase coined by Warren Buffet you have to “show some skin in the game”.   He was referring to a situation in which individuals use their own money to buy stock in the company they are running. Meaning that these individuals take on monetary risk by being involved in achieving a goal.  So, outside of investment field and just in life in general, if you need help you have to be wiling to help yourself?


What are your thoughts on conditional help?


6 replies »

  1. This is a thorny topic for sure. Sometimes I help, or try to, just because i is the right thing to do. As a clinician, I usually place some qualifiers on my aid. Otherwise things just do not go well. Still, I find there are no clear, consistent answers to that ancient question.


  2. I’m not a fan of conditional anything. That said, I’m not a multi-millionaire, so maybe your advisor is on to something.
    I agree that your valuable time should only be given to people who appreciate it and use it wisely, but I’m not sure I would withhold it until a person jumped through that many hoops. At that point, it’s not help anymore, it’s just round 2 funding.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think sometimes we just help without thinking about it because it’s a kind thing to do.
    I hadn’t thought about conditions before, but I think it’s definitely good to have boundaries. Some people won’t need boundaries, but others will want to take and keep taking, with the expectation that you will keep giving, which is where some healthy boundaries can come in useful. I don’t know who said it, but I do believe in the quote that says “people will learn how to treat you based on what you accept from them”.
    I know people who feel they have some kind of entitlement to other people’s time and resources, and I don’t think it’s wrong to put some conditions in place to motivate them to try and help themselves first!
    As a freelance professional, I often come across people who think they can have my paid services for free, and this is unfair. There have been situations where I’ve helped friends out, or done a trade for other services that I needed, but we all only have so much time in a day, and every time you say “yes” to something, you are by default saying “no” to something else, such as time for yourself or time with your family.
    There are people whom I would help unconditionally, but I do believe in a healthy give-and-take, because help should not be taken for granted, and one-sided relationships can be very draining.


  4. Tricky subject. On one hand, it leaves those needing help, open to being manipulated and controled by the other party. Basically a puppet of sorts.
    On the other hand, sometimes no help or conditional help is the only and best help you can give a person, if they aren’t serious about bettering themselves or realise them even have a problem.
    It has the potential to help someone a lot better then unconditional help. As it get provide motivation. However, it also has the potential to be sometime more sick and twisted.
    Personally I would refuse conditional help, even if I was in dire need. I would rather help myself or suffer on, then let someone have hold over me.


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