True friendship or “enabling?”


This has been an issue that I have struggled with most of my adult life, and another perspective would be greatly appreciated. How do you know the difference between when your actions are feeding someone's delusion ( such as chronic health issues as an example) and when to do God's work and help someone?

I have always sided with service and lovingkindness, but am concerned about enabling scenarios that are ultimately harmful to all parties involved.

—Satyanandi, USA


Years ago, I asked Swami Kriyananda a question not dissimilar to the one you are asking now. Mine had to do with how one should act in a crisis. “Do I have a duty to protect my own life,” I asked him, “or should I make an effort to save others, even though I know l’ll die trying?”

Swamiji replied, “What you are asking is, ‘How in such a moment can you know what God wants you to do?’ The answer is: ‘Practice when it is easier.'”

Attunement to the will of God – to “do God’s work,” as you put it – is a way of living life, not a specific answer to a specific question.

From your question, it seems this is the way you approach life, so your lack of clarity in this situation, I think, is because of a certain confusion in your question. Even the example you choose – “chronic health issues” – is a confusing one, at least to me.

To think that the karma of chronic illness could be dissolved by refusing to cooperate with the needs of the ill person, or by sternly explaining that the person is operating under a delusion, seems unrealistic. Probably also to you, which is why you have chosen loving kindness instead!

Most of the time, being a true and loving friend is God’s work for us and the way to help someone.

The question then is, when does friendship become “enabling”?

I would say it becomes “enabling” when one violates one’s own principles in the name of “helping” someone else: buying whiskey for an alcoholic, lying to cover up the transgressions of another, compromising one’s own well-being or the well-being of others, i.e., children for whom you are responsible, because of excessive demands on your time or energy. Then the relationship has moved from generosity to enabling.

Also, if the more you give to someone the more greedy that person becomes. If they show no gratitude or make no effort – however limited their resources – to give back to you. Then one may need to reconsider what is appropriate.

Above all, you have to sense how it feels inwardly. Sometimes self-sacrifice is exactly what is called for. Sometimes friendship demands restraint.

It also depends on your motivation. Are you sincerely generous or are you compulsive in your giving? To try to buy friendship, or to be ruled by fear and guilt is not pleasing to God.

Your inability to find a definitive answer to your question is because the question cannot be answered in the abstract. It depends on the karma of everyone involved, which can only be understood intuitively in the moment.

So, may I suggest, as Swamiji did to me many years ago, “Practice when it is easier.” Then, when the big questions arise, your intuition muscle will be well developed and you will naturally sense what God is asking of you.


Nayaswami Asha