This article is reprinted here with permission. Rachel Naomi Remen, MD is Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine. She is a pioneer of Relationship Centered Medicine and Medical Education and her course in Formation for medical students, the Healer's Art, is taught annually in more than half of American medical schools and 6 countries abroad. Her books, Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather's Blessings are published in 21 languages. Her nationwide training programs remind physicians and students that the practice of medicine is essentially an act of love.
This seems a very useful distinction. However, I think that perhaps there are times when pure 'helping' is needed -- additional energy required to move things in the direction they need to go. In that sense, helping can be a useful and humble thing to do -- accepting things as they are and adding one's effort or energy to move things in the needed direction. On the other hand, I think that trying to 'fix', is always problematic. For example, I sometimes have a tendency to try to 'fix' situations that seem to be lacking recognition of what I consider important wisdom related to the situation. The 'fixer' thinks that they 'know best,' -- an egotistical attitude that tends to attract resistance. At present, I am praying for my stepson and wife whose marriage seems to be disintegrating. I am also praying for a grand daughter who has become alienated from her
father, who is in the process of a painful divorce. I find myself wishing that they could see things in the 'enlightened' way that I see them. This definitely will not work. I need to emphahse and accept their attitudes and feelings as they are. Nor am I very clear on how I can 'serve' in such circumstances??
This simple article has just shifted my entire being! For years in my role as a Counselor I "fixed and helped" more often than I'd like to admit...although numerous times I had come from a place of serving...the institutions for which I was employed actually demanded that we come from a place of helping and/or fixing! So I ended up opening my own private practice and just now I see where at times I was in the role of the fixer and helper and that diminished my energy and burned me out...ever since, I've yearned to do similar work and have created an online blog for which I teach folks about meditation techniques and finding their passion in life. I honestly feel that without really knowing it I had made the decision to "serve" rather than fix or help! Through reading your post I've now realized this and am relieved as I feel for once in my life I am finally living within my genuine self and serving to the best of my ability! So I Thank-you from the bottom of my heart and soul for clarifying this for me today! I am going to share this with my circle if you don't mind![Hide Full Comment]
The two poignant anecdotes convey the mystery of two souls touching. But in the case of the woman helping change the ileostomy, can we be certain that her mindset was serving and not helping or even fixing? My point is that the motivation and intention of the 'helper' is only one of several factors influencing the nature of an interaction. Some of the previous 'helpers' that were found wanting may have genuinely intended to serve, yet for reason of some lack (could be empathy, awareness, expertise, or a number of others) failed to give rise to the 'connection' that is so delightful and healing. Likewise, failure to make such connections can be attributed to the one receiving help or service.
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What a revelation... and so true! I am deeply moved and humbled by your article. For a long time I "fixed" and "helped" one of my children who struggled with life. I thought this was my duty as a "good" and loving mother - to see that she had a good life. I couldn't understand why nothing I did made her feel better or changed her outlook and self-esteem for the better. I see now that my actions were having just the opposite effect on her. Your article has inspired me.
wow, powerful truths....as ususal they make me cry like a baby. Wonderful- thank you so much!
Dr. Remen has clearly defined the true and beautiful meaning of what it really means to serve!! Absolutely amazing! I actually never really paid attention to the meaning of helping, fixing and serving. I knew what they meant but not in the way she explains and sheds light on it.
Dr. Remen, I thank you from the place in my heart which is deeper than one can imagine. You have really changed my view of serving the mankind. Now, I really know what it is to REALLY serve someone.
I will serve now instead of helping people as I have been doing in the past.
I send you lots of light and love,
Thank you for saying this truth in a manner that it 'reached' home.
"Even after all this time the sun never says to the Earth, 'You owe me'
For the Sun, and the Moon, no one is a stranger!"
I have been by my busbands side for the last five months as his healing continues to unfold. This article has helped me gain perspective in the care the medical world has presented and the support those around us have given, along with my own relationship to his healing. There is a difference when acts of kindness and support are woven intricately with spirit.