(Another) excerpt from How Can I Help? by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman:
"Burnout can arise, as we've seen, in what we bring with us into the helping act or what we encounter in the environment in which it's often conducted. Obviously, frustration and doubt occur too in the course of our work itself, particularly when we try to measure how it's all going.
"Ofen, of course, assessment is called for. Sometimes the answer is clear: the wound is healing, the reading skills improving. Or we may want to look beneath these immediate consequences to deeper effects. You've established a development program in a small third-world village, but is it leading to self-sufficiency? You've comforted a friend, but did you reinforce his self-pity? You've exposed neglect in nursing homes, but did you do so in a way which will encourage them to reconsider how they think about society's elders? All this is a kind of appropriate continuing inquiry into practice, a sharpening of skillful means.
"On the other hand, if our habits of self-observation are keen, if the Witness is active, we may note that our efforts to measure our work and ourselves are frequently patterns of insecurity.
"'Did I help?' 'Did it work?' 'What did he feel?' 'Why did she say that?' 'What was really going on this morning?' 'What if? ... what if ...? ' 'Try this ... no try that.' 'If only ... if only ...' And, probably heaviest of all: 'Was it really for the best? How do I know? How can I be sure? God, it's somebody's life!'
"All this is understandable. When suffering is at stake and we've offered ourselves to its relief, we naturally have an interest in how situations evolve. But sometimes this compulsive need to know leads us to doubt because we have a hard time coming to terms with the essential ambiguity of helping.
"Paradoxical and elusive, service is ultimately a journey into the unknown. Did we really help? Help at what level? We often can't find answers. And we don't know what to do with that. So we wonder, worry, turn off, give up ... or just struggle bravely on, puzzled and burdened, wearing down. See the helper? ... He's the hard-working one over there ... the one with the constant frown.
"At some level this challenge is very plain. We can either be frustrated and worn out by uncertainty and doubt or try to find a way to open to the ambiguity, embrace it, work with it, be moved and inspired by it ... and thereby come closer to the very heart of service where true freedom is found."
Image: AMagill. Match smoke. Jun 27, 2006. Online.
Reading: Dass, Ram and Paul Gorman. How Can I Help? Stories and Reflections on Service. New York: Knopf, 1985. p. 201-202. Print.