Beware The Help That Harms

Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli

The kids and I took a road trip to Hilton Head Island this summer.  It was a truly magical, meandering kind of trip. One rainy day we found a way-off-the-beaten-path-watch-out-for-alligators-along-the-trail-there beach that was known for its shells.  So, shelling we went. We dug up buckets of very cool shells, including many of the awesome curly shells known to have… inhabitants.

It was the day before we were scheduled to make the long drive back home to Indiana—and we were planning to take the even longer way home by way of a quick detour to Savannah.  So, knowing some of our shells had inhabitants, I left the buckets out on the small balcony of our hotel room overnight, so they could all dry out and the smell wouldn’t permeate our small quarters.

(I know.)

The next day we loaded up the car and I put the buckets of shells into plastic grocery bags, which I tied up and then covered with towels, just to make sure the smell didn’t fill the car and that once we got home they would be JUST shells to remember our trip by.

(I know.  I know.)

Fast forward fourteen hours. Back home in Indiana, I took the buckets of shells and dumped them into the kitchen sink to rinse off….   And was met by ELEVEN LIVING CRABS who immediately started exploring their new digs. With gusto, I might add.


I’m not much of a fan of sea critters, and I had admittedly just spent the past day and a half intentionally trying to let these little guys dry up—BUT, I was immediately struck by a pang of humanity and morality and all the other types of Save-The-Crabs feelings you might expect with a sink full of hopeful crawlers.

So, I filled a huge bowl of water, added some table salt, and dumped them all into it.

(I KNOW!!)

I looked over a short while later and saw that one was climbing on top of another and halfway out of the bowl.  He was huge.  A monster.   I named him Frank.  And then promptly moved the bowl outside.

The kids and I discussed the situation as we observed Frank and the others from afar. What does one DO in such a situation? We agreed that if they survived the night, we’d go get a crab terrarium and call them our new family pets.

The next morning, they were still puttering about, though admittedly more slowly and a bit more lackluster. One had escaped all together and was halfway across the yard.

So, off to PetSmart we went, where we bought a terrarium, some crab food, and some plastic rocks.

When we got back home, they were all dead.

All of them.

There are a few things that are apparent to me now, beyond the fact that table salt does not a sea salt substitute make.  One is that I unwittingly drowned them, because crabs actually need part water/part air.  Who knew?  (GOOGLE, that’s who knew.) 

Ironic, isn’t it?  They survived my passive attempts to kill them, and perished in my active attempts to save them. 

Ah, Frank.

How often do we do this? We “help,” and our helping actually does more harm than good? 

So I offer my fateful and tumultuous short relationship with Frank and his friends to remind myself, and you, of this Very True Thing:  just because you **think** you are helping, you might not be.  And just because you **think** you know what’s right, you might not. Take a moment to consider those that you are eager to help, and proceed gently, with their hearts in yours. (and maybe, you know, google some solutions first)

I’m here to help, if you need me.  😉

Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.