Reasons not to help

If you’re in a situation where you can’t help with something because you’re too busy helping with something else – fair enough. If you don’t have the resources to respond to a crisis, because of the other crisis you’re responding to this is certainly an issue. The person fighting for ecocide laws doesn’t necessarily have anything to spare for tackling homelessness right now. The people volunteering for The Samaritans probably don’t have the resources to be raising awareness of domestic abuse. 

It’s also true that if you are in crisis, you can hardly be expected to be trying to pull someone else out of a different burning building.

And these are never the people online saying ‘we should be helping this other group of people instead.’ People doing the work are never, in my experience, the people who want someone else not to get help. They might make a case for why their cause is more urgent right now – and that can be an important thing to do, too. But even so, I don’t see genuine activists minimising other people’s issues.

I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘we should help these other people first’ is a massive red flag. It can mean you’re dealing with someone who is absorbing hate-media in uncritical ways. It definitely means you’re dealing with someone who believes in a hierarchy of worth and that some people are more deserving of help when in crisis, than others are. How this plays out in practice tends to involve no one being deserving enough and no help being offered. No matter what the excuse is, the idea that some people don’t deserve help, or should be made to wait while other, more deserving people are helped, fundamentally rejects the humanity of people who are in need. 

The people who say we should help our own homeless people first, are also (I strongly suspect) the people who won’t want resources ‘wasted’ on the kind of homeless people who ‘do it to themselves’ or have ‘chosen’ this life. The ones with addictions, especially. The people who say we should help our own poor people first will often turn out not to think all of those people deserve help. Not the single mothers who have fecklessly ‘got themselves pregnant’ not the lazy ones, not the ones who have phones. 

People whose first reaction is to think of reasons why a person should not be helped tend to just keep doing that. It’s not about directing help where it might most be needed, but instead is about abdicating responsibility while trying to look like being moral and having values.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

2 responses to “Reasons not to help

  • jswhite


    An example in my area a few years back was a substance abuse charity/clinic that wanted to build and operate a free methodone clinic in a nearby city.

    Their reasons were fourfold:
    [1] to cut down on crime in that area (which was most often perpetrated by addicts who needed drugs, or money for drugs)
    [2] reduce the use of dirty needles (and therefore slow the spread of blood diseases)
    [3] offer a safe alternative to the bad drugs the addicts would get on the streets
    [4] offer treatment to those who really wanted to beat their addiction.

    It raised such a wave of hostility! People sounded off exactly like you’re talking about. People would throw up diabetic people as an example of more worthy people to help instead of addicts who “did it to themselves” and “didn’t deserve help”. Or other groups that needed help more than “criminals and scum” who deserved prison time instead of help.

    It was shocking and heartbreaking. The lack of compassion people display for other people is just disheartening.

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