Have you ever done a “good deed” only to find out it harmed more than it helped? Perhaps you lent money to a relative, then discovered it was put towards an addiction you didn’t know they had. Maybe you pursued a career for idealistic reasons, later realizing it wasn’t a good match for you, and that the good you thought you’d be doing never really occurred. Or, conversely, perhaps you’ve been the victim of a scam or some other ruse of false benefit. Clearly, good intentions—whether they are your own or those you imagine others to have—are not a promise of positive results. And, somewhat ironically, actions done without a conscious intention to be helpful sometimes set very positive things in motion. For example, you may get lost while driving, but discover a new store, restaurant, or part of town that you really like?
Why do I bring these things up? Am I trying to sow seeds of cynicism or discourage acts of kindness? Not at all. I bring them up to illustrate that being helpful—to others or yourself—is a complex thing. It requires more than just a generous and compassionate heart. It also requires consciousness. Ultimately, it involves commitment and obedience to your own process of personal growth and development.
There is a proverb that goes something like this: If the right person does the wrong thing, it still turns out right, but if the wrong person does the right thing, it turns out wrong. This paradoxical saying holds a key to understanding the deeper nature of helping. Doing good in your own life and the lives of others is less about the outward act, and more about who acts and why. It is about being the right person in the right place at the right time.
Like a growing plant, your psychological and spiritual life is a process of unfoldment. There is a sequence of development, a series of steps which must occur for maturation to proceed. Carl Jung used the term individuation to describe the process of psychological and spiritual development that occurs—or tries to occur—in each individual. Everyone has the opportunity to assist in this maturation process. To do so allows you to become more of the unique individual you were created to be. You bring to the world your particular contribution(s).
This is significant, because you don’t help others if what you are doing isn’t in line with your unfolding psychological process. For example, if life is asking you to quit your job and begin another career, you are not doing yourself or others any favors by continuing your work any longer than you responsibly have to. Not only may you miss an opportunity for a more fulfilling enterprise or adventure, you may be interfering with the timing of a job opening for someone who is meant to take your place.
It is also important to note that being in the right place at the right time doesn’t always mean that you will be conscious of this fact. This is because God, or the Universe, uses you as an instrument of growth and healing in your own life and the lives of others in ways you may not see or understand. The person who is, as best they can, trying to follow the Tao (the unfolding process) of their life, is more likely to interact with others in a way that also facilitates their individuation. (Of course, the other person may not see it this way. In fact, they may perceive you to be unhelpful, or even antagonistic to their goals, especially if they are at odds with their own calling or destiny.)
This is one of the gifts of psychotherapy that focuses on helping you follow the process that is trying to unfold in your life—it helps you be the right person in the right place at the right time. When this happens, even when you do the “wrong” thing by family, friends’, or society’s standards, things turn out right by God’s.