Question: Could you please tell me how I can distinguish the desire to help someone from people-pleasing? If helping a person gives you an inner feeling of your importance or professionalism, does that already mean that you are helping someone for the sake of feeding your vanity and pride? What are the truly Christian attitudes to helping others and what inner feelings do they imply?
Answer: Understanding how people-pleasing is different from just helping people implies understanding of the term itself.
The ancient fathers St. Basil the Great, Venerable Maximus the Confessor, St Ephraim the Syrian and others understood by man-pleasing the actions with which we try to earn people’s praise and recognition. Obviously, the main motive of man-pleasing is pride, which means that such a person puts himself in the first place. The virtue of kindness is the opposite of the sin of people-pleasing, although both can be very similar on the outside. Kindness strives to help others, even to the detriment of oneself. The main goal of kindness is care for one’s neighbor.
But what about the satisfaction that comes with doing something good? This is where the first verses of Genesis come to mind: “And God said it was good!” This is how the Lord evaluated His work at the end of each day of creation. Man is created in the image and likeness of God and, of course, is called to do any job well. In addition to humility and the habit of seeing our own sins, we must also bring up within ourselves the virtue of discretion. That means that we need to be able to admit not only our failures, misdeeds and sins, but also soberly assess our good deeds. If we succeed in doing something good, we need to accept it and thank God for it.
There is nothing wrong with feeling joy and satisfaction from a job done, especially if it is done professionally. Without doubt, pride and vanity always lie in wait for us on this path making it necessary for us to pray to the Lord to give us a spirit of prudence, so that we would not attribute our achievements exclusively to ourselves, but see the hand of God in everything.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds