(My Eastern New Mexico News column from December 6, 2017- posted in its entirety now that the paper's exclusivity has expired)
Most people enjoy helping others when they can, and when they see a deserving opportunity. It's one of the best things about human nature.
Yet it's easy to fool yourself into believing you are helping while doing the opposite.
It's not "helping" if it's unwanted.
For example, I don't want you to hire police to protect me from crime. I certainly don't want to be forced to pay for them, nor let them interfere in acts which have no individual victim.
If I see you stabbing yourself in the foot repeatedly, my intervention might not be wanted. Even if I suspect mental illness, how far should I go to stop you from doing what you want to do? As unpleasant as the reality is, you have the right to do whatever you want to your own body. I have no right to tackle you to prevent you from harming yourself, and if I do anyway, you may have a legitimate claim against me. Whether anyone would blame me is a different issue.
Often, when seeing someone who seems to need help, the most anyone has a right to do is to offer advice, then walk away if the advice is unwelcome. This is hard to do.
Giving advice falls under freedom of speech, yet no one is obligated to listen. If they refuse and you impose yourself on them, you have gone beyond what you have a right to do. You aren't helping.
You can't help by violating people's rights, nor are you helping when you assist those who do. This is the mistake which props up war and other forms of mob violence.
Contrary to popular belief, welfare isn't helping. It is not generous to force others to contribute, no matter how good you believe the cause to be. You've negated any help, only shifting the harm to someone else.
Plus, welfare creates dependency. Once in the system, it's hard to escape because of distorted incentives.
Charity is better for everyone. Voluntary acts always are. It's better for the giver because it isn't forced. If the recipient is discovered to have lied about his situation, the giver can immediately choose to keep his money in his own pocket; no need for a bureaucracy to rule on the case. Charity is also better for the recipient. It can be less intrusive and less demeaning. He can seek other sources if the charity comes with unreasonable strings attached.
I'm in favor of helping. When people help, everyone wins.