Sometimes, well-intentioned plans have unintended consequences. We impose a mandatory gratuity so the server doesn’t get stiffed; we let the mediocre employees “skate” because they’re the breadwinners for their families; we say “yes” to our kids because we’re their parents and we want them to be happy. Are you helping or hurting them?
Even though our efforts may help the recipients in the short term, we are making them dependent on our good graces rather than preparing them to accept personal responsibility for their future. Here are some examples that occur every day.
Guaranteed gratuities. Restaurant servers receive a 10% – 20% tip, regardless of the service they provide. This teaches servers that half-hearted work still gets rewarded. So why try harder? Their complacency ultimately hurts the restaurant because a superior customer experience is built on the establishment’s ambiance, food, and service.
Automatic rewards. Annual bonuses are sometimes based on employee tenure or “just showing up” rather than on merit. The fact is that people stop trying when there’s no benefit for being exceptional and no consequence for being mediocre.
Gifts of graduation. Students are promoted to the next grade level regardless of whether they’ve met the minimum requirements. This “easy path” through school will surely catch up with the students one day.
Better safe than sorry. Safe spaces protect students from people who say or do things that may offend or make a student feel uncomfortable (regardless of whether there was any intent by the offender). Safe spaces denigrate the educational experience by limiting dissenting viewpoints, discouraging students from thinking for themselves, and making the whole campus community paranoid — fearing that they could be called out by an accuser.
“Yes” — the most common cop-out. When we say “yes” to kids merely to placate them, or avoid a scene in public, they never learn the difference between right and wrong. Saying “no” to your children, when appropriate, is an act of love.
Unqualified quotas. If opportunity is based on special quotas rather than on an individual’s true qualifications, achievements, and merit, the recipient will never experience the true satisfaction of knowing that they earned their accomplishments. Moreover, will they ever truly earn the respect of those who earned their success? If you reward people for nothing, why expect anything?
Nonsensical no-bids. Some organizations offer sole-source contracts to a company rather than requiring a fair and competitive bidding process. This makes the supplier complacent and dependent over time, never having had to win the business.
Questionable quid pro quos. Special favors doled out through nepotism or a quid pro quo rather than earning a seat at the table have a real downside. Although the recipients of these favors may make it to the front of the line, the question remains whether they’re up to the job.
Mediocre meritocracy. Some organizations fail to counsel mediocre performers. When people don’t learn from their mistakes, their mistakes often turn into bad habits. This behavior helps neither the employees nor the organization.
Emotional appeals. People are often encouraged to buy from a specific source (i.e., “buy American,” buy union shop, buy local), regardless of the value offered. This may kill the incentive to be more competitive, only postponing the day of reckoning when value triumphs (as it commonly does).
Empty entitlements. Providing government services, in some cases for generations, rather than helping people to get back on their feet and provide for themselves is a sure path to dependency and helplessness.
We are compassionate people. We should make every effort to help the downtrodden get back on their feet, but we shouldn’t absolve them of their personal responsibility to secure a better future for themselves and their families.
Compassion shouldn’t be measured by the size of a handout but by our ability to provide opportunity to reduce dependency, enabling people to become self-sufficient and helping them to realize their dreams.
When we encourage people to become completely dependent on the goodness of others for their livelihoods or achievements — when we reward people for lack of effort and personal initiative — we strip them of their confidence, trample on their personal dignity, and kill their will to improve themselves.
Are You Helping or Hurting?
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