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Re^4: Stop with the interview questions already

by ELISHEVA (Prior)
on Sep 01, 2009 at 10:17 UTC ( #792599=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to Re^3: Stop with the interview questions already
in thread Stop with the interview questions already

I've been thinking a lot about what you wrote the last day. If you want to help anyone, whether with Perl or with life in general, knowing when to stop is probably the most important skill one must develop after the helping skills themselves.

But I can't agree with the claim that "any intercession" is harmful or ineffective. If someone needs a kick in the butt to take responsibility for their own learning, then coddling won't help. On the other hand, a lot of people fail because they spend so much time kicking their own butt they stop looking for solutions. Telling them that they deserve to fail only aggravates the problem. It isn't easy to tell which is which, but getting it wrong either way can cause a lot of damage.

The bottom line is that help isn't help unless it is tuned to the needs of the person. There are any number of reasons why a person "doesn't get it": emotional, perceptual, learning styles to name a few. Many learning problems have solutions, but only if (a) the person wants to learn and (b) the mentor makes a genuine effort to work together with the person to diagnose the problem. Throwing the wrong help at someone is going to be frustrating at best and harmful at worst. Throwing the right help can open doors one never knew were there.

I don't think either question - the desire to learn or the choice of a beneficial helping method - can be answered from afar. There is a fine line between the people that really need help and the people who just want attention and short-cuts. On the surface they can look a lot alike. The line isn't always easy to see. In my experience, it is almost always invisible without at least a nominal effort at compassionate empathy. This is true even with people we think we know well - children, parents, spouses, best friends.

Paradoxically, I've often found that taking someone seriously does a pretty good job of telling the two apart. To take someone seriously puts the burden on them to respond and the people who just want to use you will usually find a way to make themselves scarce once it has been done.

But for that to work one also needs to internally have a clear set of boundaries. "Show me some code!", "What have you tried?" - these are more than push-offs or even aids to our own comprehension as helpers. They act as challenges to force someone to invest or shut-up.

I also feel I have to disagree with the thought that the charitable have trouble with this. The naturally charitable, or at least the naturally empathetic, learn how to set up boundaries early on as a survival skill. Life would eat them alive if they didn't. In my experience, the ones who have the most difficulty are the "occasionally charitable". The ability to slowly expand and test boundaries isn't fully developed, so it is easy to miss the signals that someone is just out for a ride.

The occasionally charitable often need a connection to something personal before they will help: a cause they believe in or the difficulties faced by themselves or someone they love. This can get in the way of a clear headed assessment of what the other person really needs. Something that looks like our own/our children/our siblings/our best friend's problem, may not, in fact have the same causes or solutions as that other person's problem. Also, our friends will often protect our boundaries for us. The same cannot be said for strangers.

Best, beth

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