Friday, April 29, 2011

The Art of Helping is a Secret

Søren Kierkeaard died in 1855, he became 42 years old. Despite his short life, his writings was no less impressive in scope, format, and contents. He believed that he would not live as old as he did. He wrote already in 1848, seven years before he died, a book about how he wished to be read and understood: Views of my Authorship (Synspunkter om min Forfatter-Virksomhed). He wrote the book along with Sickness unto Death. Kierkegaard's entire family was dead at this time, except his brother Peter Christian, and Kierkegaard had a notion that he would not be older than Jesus was when he died: 33 years old. As it turned out, he survived his own expectations, and therefore did not published this book, in his lifetime. After his death in 1855, his brother foundin this manuscript inKierkegaard's apartment and published the book posthumously.

One of Kierkegaard's most famous quotations is to be found in this book, The Art of Helping is a Secret. Particularly among health and social workers is the quote of great importance. Kierkegaard himself was probably little interested in these professions and did not have them in mind when he wrote the book, but more concerned about how to help others to become Christians. He described himself as a Christian thinker and was in rebellion against the Danish State Church. He published a newspaper, The Moment, in the years before he died, and here he went to a frontal attack against the Danish State Church system. In his opinion,  Danish priests should be where the individual is to help them to become Christians. The Danish State Church was not where people were and Kierkegaard fought against this system. The Art of Helping is a Secret is still written in such a way that health and social workers all over the world have taking the text as their owm. Why? What's in this little text that speaks so strongly to health and social workers?


It is important to start with the question: How can a health and social worker help another human being in a good way? Empathy and respect for others' self-determination are values ​​that are highly valued. But to help another human being the helper's empathy must be developed through self-reflection and in dialogue with the needy, relatives, colleagues and other health care personnel. Health and social service sectosr are currently characterized by time pressure and demands for ever greater efficiency, this in hopes of increasing productivity. However, this may also increase the risk that the individual needs, preferences and values ​​are not seen, or overridden by the well-meant paternalism. The Art of Helping is a Secreat in health and social care requires a dialogue between the helper and the needy, and a special concern for the needy that are not always able to participate in this dialogue.


I have analyzed the text called The Art of Helping is a Secret in my PhD thesis on shame and sexual abuse (2009) and found 12 items in this text that sheds light on what the secret is and how to help others should be exercised. Here is the original text, and therafter I will  continue my analysis of the 12 elements in later posts.*


If one is truly to succeed in leading a person to a specific place, one must first and foremost take care to find him where he is and begin there. 


This is the secret in the entire art of helping. Anyone who cannot do this is himself under a delusion if he thinks he is able to help someone else. In order truly to help someone else, I must understand more than he - but certainly first and foremost understand what he understands. If I do not do that, then my greatest understanding does not help him at all. If I nevertheless want to assert my greater understanding, then it is because I am vain or proud, then basically instead of benefiting him I really want to be admired by him. But all true helping gegins with a humbling. The helper must first humble himself under the person he wants to help and thereby understand that to help is not to dominate but to serve, that to help is not to be the most dominating but the most patient, that to help is a willingness for the time being to put up with being in the wrong and not understand what the other understands.

 Soren Kierkegaard, [1855] 1962. Synspunktet for min Forfatter-Virksomhed. Copenhagen, Gyldendal, p.96-07. (My translation from Danish t English)

* My analysis is carried out with a special thanks to the philosopher John Lundstøl, who is one of the foremost Kierkegaard experts in Norway.

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