Thursday, March 10, 2005

Servant or Enabler?

What is the difference between serving and enabling? I have a really hard time determining how to serve people without enabling them to continue or learn negative behaviors. Sometimes serving means doing something for someone. But what happens when doing something for someone does not, in fact, help them as much as it may reinforce negative behaviors?

The distinction between serving and enabling is generally easy to make in some situations. If I am certain to buy my (this is made up) alcoholic husband enough beer to keep the fridge full at all times, then I’m probably enabling him in his habit and not serving his true needs.

If I continually wipe up spilled coffee and food crumbs in the office kitchen, it would seem that I’m serving my coworkers. When, however, does that stop being service and start becoming a means for other people to be even lazier and more disrespectful of the others in the office because they never feel that they need to clean up after themselves?

This is a somewhat silly example, but don’t we face questions like this all the time? Or is it just me who really wonders whether the "service" that I’m doing is maybe not the best way to serve someone? This sometimes paralyzes me and I would guess that inaction without any form of engagement is never service. Perhaps I need to stop worrying about the bigger picture and just clean up after people without asking questions. Wouldn’t the service do my heart better? Would the enablement? But it shouldn’t be about me, right? It should be about the people I’m serving and I would really hope I’m not enabling them.

This comes to light a lot in parenting. There are times that doing something for Kevin is meant to show him that I’m his mother and I care about him and I will do things for him. Then there are times that doing that same thing for him only furthers his laziness and keeps him from understanding that it’s something he needs to be able to do for himself.

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately and today I ran across this Dilbert strip. I should stop worrying about it because whether I am serving or enabling, I probably just sound like a lot of "Work harder" messages anyway.

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