Can we shut up and listen to people who want our help?

Published by Chris Oestereich on

I listened to an interesting talk recently. I liked it so much that I listened to it again a few weeks later.

The talk features Dr. Ernesto Sirolli, an Italian academic with decades of experience working in development. Dr. Sirolli made several interesting points in his talk, but one that he borrowed from E. F. Schumacher really stuck with me:

[bctt tweet=”If people don’t want your help, leave them alone! -Dr. Ernesto Sirolli” username=”SGS_Ideas”]

This idea is repeated multiple times. I think it’s done so for good reason. As Dr. Sirolli states, we think we have the right to help people because we believe we’re better than them. I think this sort of mindset is something that happens at times without our realizing that we’re doing it. Maybe people objectively need our help, but in In Dr. Sirolli’s opinion, if they don’t want it, we shouldn’t try to help. He takes it a step further in suggesting that even if they want our help, we should not presume it’s okay to jump in unless they specifically ask us to do so.

Ernesto Sirolli, development

As we look to drive positive change it’s worth considering whether the things we think we should be doing are viewed thus by the intended beneficiaries. If you can’t convince yourself of that, it’s probably best to find something else to work on. And it’s probably better to just ask…

Two other points that grabbed my attention:

  • Intellect is not education. Intellect is DNA. [bctt tweet=”If education was the sole route to progress we’d still be living in caves like our ancestors. -Dr. Ernesto Sirolli” via=”no”]
  • [bctt tweet=”If you want to help, you need to shut up and listen.  -Dr. Ernesto Sirolli” username=”SGS_Ideas”]

Listen to Dr. Sirolli’s Stanford Social Innovation Review talk:

This post first appeared on the Ideas @ SGS site.


Also published on Medium.