Application I: Helping

Help is one thing. Helping is something else. Helping is more behavioral.

Well-intended helping episodes can be unproductive for both helper and helped. As instances of dysfunctional behavior they rank, in frequency if not severity, not far below such behavioral problems as criminality and neurosis. More to the point, occasions of accident and failure when trying to help tell of our lack of understanding and preparedness for effecting relevant, constructive change.

Helping can be anything that contributes – or purports to contribute – to a criterial outcome. Helping attempts to fill the gap between control need (CN) and control capability (CC). Help might be a gift, a commercial product, a suggestion (aka information), “a hand” – anything proffered in assistance. And although help is shown as independent in “all that it takes” (ATIT) for constructive change, any of its cohorts (e.g., support, tools, procedures, ideas, ingredients, particular circumstances) can be construed as help – i.e., as more or less helpful.

Helping can be very frustrating. So can being helped. (The frustration adds to the lack of productivity.) Efforts to help do not always help. Relevance becomes a consideration, as in communication events where relevance of content and timing are well known difficulties. In an informal survey of undergraduate college students, being told what to do stood first among reported communication accidents. (Not checking stood second. See below).

Helping brings behavior center stage. But if the structure of behavior is not known, by the helper and/or the helped, then relevance – the when, where, who, why, what and how of constructive helping – is hard to specify. For some common behavioral solutions (: Sbeh) custom and/or learning make that determination. Imitation serves. However, for problems still unsolved any resolution depends on a more fundamental sense of relevance. How might and should the operating system of one agency integrate with the operating system of another in order to be helpful? (See .)

This is no abstract concern. Development of a service economy rests on understanding of and innovation in helping. Community, communication and cognition, education, health, – you name it – they all will advance as helping develops. Important potentially productive relationships are involved: membership; sender-receiver; teacher-student; doctor-patient; etc. And then there is the matter of self satisfaction: Few things are more satisfying than having rendered help successfully. Indeed, we may say that helping is the hallmark of humanism.

The problem of helping is very deep in another sense. Looking back from the criterial outcome of control achieved (:CA), we can discern (at least) ten behavioral sectors:
  • H-1: Being helped. Assistance rendered. (Or not being helped: assistance refused, as with — but not limited to — commercial products)
  • H-1a: Helping to be helped. (Calling attention to need – e.g., infant cries; consumer demands; specific requests for information)
  • H-2: Helping. (Rendering assistance as best one can – or as one prefers [e.g., what one has to offer])
  • H-2a: Helping to be helped to help. (Suggesting possible areas of need, as with patient medical histories; research surveys of consumer wants and needs; inquiring of client interests or concerns)
  • H-2b. Being helped to help. (Vocational and/or professional training in skills needed – e.g., clinical skills)
  • H-3: Helping helpers to help. (Professional and/or vocational education; innovative tools and procedures for helping)
  • H-3a. Being helped to help helpers. (Openness and attention to theory and methods re supplying needed help; avoiding impediments)
  • H-4: Helping educators of professionals. (Fundamental inquiry on helping in problem solving)
  • H-4a. Being helped to help educators of helpers (Openness and attention to theory and methods re needed help, to general behavioral principles given the Nature of things; avoiding impediments)
  • H-5: Nature of things. (Guides fundamental research: This is help, but not helping unless and until it is properly read. This “reading” [see ] is indeed a matter of helping, by having inquired into more than just the order of things. BFPS offers such a picture and suggests pointed questions to ask)
Communication and cognition difficulties plague efforts all the way up and down the line. Education in such matters is not that well developed. Nor has community development progressed enough to produce an adequate investment in education’s development or in developing behavioral health, settling too often for aggregate efforts on personal supply-and-demand initiatives rather than investing in concerted development of helping and its myriad companion capabilities.


Helping has its genesis in unmet need. Four conditions should be distinguished:
  • CN/CC>l: Control capability is less than control need (a qualitative determination);
  • CN-CC: Control capability is quantifiably less than control need in some respect(s);
  • CN/Cc>1: Control capacity* is less than control need (a qualitative determination);
  • CN-Cc: Control capacity is quantifiably less than control need in some respect(s).
Each of these can make a difference in helping (to the helper and/or the helped):
CN/CC>1: Support will be needed to encourage effort, whatever other help or helping is advanced. Some anxiety in the helped may arise as this sense of things accumulates over situational problems, making communication and cognition more difficult. Helper and/or helped may not attend to all that it takes, lapsing into whatever it takes (WIT) or the only other thing it takes (OOTIT) stratagems. Definite tendency to seek available help from other individuals or from community (but available help is limited to supply on hand [:Sbeh's], and may not suffice). Money may be seen as helpful for purchase of available help in this or any situational problem. Solicited power may be emphasized over developed strength.
  • CN-CC: This implies some sense of the help needed, and thus an appreciation of what the situational problem and behavioral problem demand. But not knowing what we don’t know is a difficulty (H-5). As are intellectual impediments, of which jargon is but the surface of a vast ocean. So asking pointed questions to get or give needed help is not easy, especially when education, formal and informal, does not prepare us adequately for this cognitive and communicative task. “Supply and demand” is no more accurate and complete a view here (see Impediments:) than it is for characterizing the trade relationship (aka economy). Helped and helper may confound and confuse want and need with respect to demand.
  • CN/Cc>1: The sense that one’s capacity is not equal to the control need can lead one to cede responsibility for problem solution – generally as well as specifically — to some other agency (e.g., a deity; or to some other agency). (This forsakes the responsibility to develop capability and neglects the fact that capability development can increase capacity – or, at least, diminish its losses.) For a particular situational problem, escape mechanisms may be employed to avoid the challenge of the situation. Thus can the potential helper be frustrated by a refusal of help.
  • CN-Cc: Some capacity shortcomings are obvious and behaviorally crippling in one way or another. They may or may not be remedied. If not, depression is a functional threat and support becomes a multi-faceted matter. Tools have been a blessing here, but tool usage has proved to reinstate the capability challenge. Aging’s lost capacities pose special problems, and only a hard-earned diminished loss of capacity may be the extent of help available. An assumption that additional capacity will improve capability may not be warranted – as suggested by different types of “intelligence” (e.g., “social”; “smarts”) relative to IQ measurements.
(* The capability-capacity distinction parallels the consequential distinctions [and dynamic relationships: between step and body and between development and evolution)


Because helping is subject to development, and because it involves many other developed capabilities in constructive change efforts, this domain offers a marvelous opportunity to further develop our behavioral research capability (, , ). Research on helping can be the platform on which to conduct development and research as a companion to research and development, where producing ordering has equal status with discovering orderings (, : Nature of Things x order of things). Some of our most taxing problems (: P), for which collective effort is needed and interdisciplinary research is sometimes summoned, will not yield to less than a joint D&R-R&D attack. R&D leaves too much to evolution (and partisans of competing solutions, more concerned with decision making issues than with problem solving – especially the behavioral problem, and asks too little of development.

Helping, if thus understood in the context of consequentiality per se and behavioral necessity, can act like a scanning device to detect imperfections (so to speak) in the behavioral molecules of compositional change efforts. It can do so best if frequent checking, by the helper and by the helped, accompanies efforts to help, so that failures are not the only evidence of malfunction. (An accident perspective provides a supportive context for this kind of research effort.)

Helping can be more than the hallmark of humanity. It can embrace and enrich art and science too. Consider behavior’s compositional effort in the light of materials science, which has come to enjoy utility in physics, chemistry and botany – and more recently in synthetic biology. Material consequences can follow from materials found or synthesized. The steps we make and then take are material: They are in and of consequence. As we engage helpfully, individually and collectively, we encounter art in the composition of the behavioral molecule and science in the analysis of that composition’s effectiveness.

(In this respect we might also note that utilitarianism should have a behavioral aspect in addition to its accounting of outcomes, an aspect to which helping contributes. Utilitarianism needs to be about doing things the best way as well as about serving the most people. About effecting, not just effects.)

If we continue in the tradition of applied research, studying this or that addition to the supply of help, then we shall end up with an even bigger pile of particular “How to’s.” Applicable research would add an emphasis on the process of helping to any particular helps.

Helping provides a test of one’s control capability, of one’s understanding of the behavioral problem, and of one’s appreciation of the Nature of Things.

(c) 2010 R. F. Carter


Supporting Diagrams

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