I Gotta Watch Out for the Saviour Complex

Deepa Krishnan

Author: Deepa Krishnan

Date: Tue, 2017-08-01 11:30

One of the problems in doing "social work" is that I have become a real worry-wart. I worry about our Abhyudaya kids all the time.

It's really not surprising. I see a lot of poverty and injustice around me. The children live in a terribly unhygienic environment, and don't have access to toilets or sanitation. They go to schools that provide very poor quality education. They don't have enough career opportunities. There's the added threat of early removal from the education system, and the threat of early marriage... in other words, there's a lot that can derail the journey of these kids. So like an anxious shepherd tending a flock, I worry all the time about seeing them safely through.

Sometimes I fight battles on their behalf. And I even win some. When I realise that I can actually make a difference, this makes me feel even more responsible for their welfare. But the size of the problem is very large, so I worry that no matter how much I do, it is not enough. I worry that the world will suck the children into a whirlpool of tribulations. 

Yesterday I was talking about some of these worries to a friend. And then suddenly it struck me that I am probably suffering from a Saviour Complex. Just because I have won a few battles, it doesn't mean that the whole world of the children revolves around me. I need to stop thinking that I am the only one making an impact on their lives. They themselves have a lot of agency, and so do their parents. They have many well-wishers, including a big support system of family and friends. It struck me that all social workers need the humility to accept their limited roles. The Saviour Complex is a dangerous thing, because it leads to self-aggrandizement. Instead, we need to tread light and easy.

It's important that I fight battles. It's important that I do what I can. But I must realise that if I were to disappear off the planet tomorrow, the children's lives will still go on. Abhyudaya is a strong programme, and it will continue.

Prof. Deepa Krishnan, Head of  SPJIMR's Abhyudaya initiative, with the Abhyudaya kids

My focus should be to build systems into the programme that will ensure its continuity. I must strengthen the programme so much that I myself become completely redundant. That is the road to making a lasting impact.

People are always talking about leadership, and how important it is. But when it comes to social work, it is more important for the organisation to be sustainable and strong, rather than have any dependence on a dynamic individual leader.

By the way - as a footnote - the same Saviour Complex lesson applies to parenting also. As a mother, I worry all the time about my daughter. I fret about her future, and I make efforts to shield her from any possible trouble. But the truth is that I am not my daughter's keeper. Her life is her own, and she will lead it with or without me. I am there to guide, to mentor, to wipe tears if needed. But she is her own person. My role should only be to develop her own independence, to the point where she no longer needs me. Easier said than done!


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Ma'am, after a very long time I have read something which is so real and anyone can connect to it so easily. I read the entire blog , because when blogs have a new concept to share (like here the idea of "saviour complex") it makes it extremely interesting. Look forward to more of such blogs from you. Regards.

Glad you liked the article. Thank you for the comments. It encourages me to post more :-)

I found this piece an extremely interesting, heart-warming one. Prof. Deepa Krishnan seems to; through her blog, dabble with her mind and heart strings. One can notice how she is being tugged from seeking to take complete responsibility for the troubles and challenges faced by the children of Abhyudaya ‘all the time’; and on the other hand also has contrasting thoughts which are holistic in nature - that it is not really her personal responsibility to take care of all marginalised children and goes on to narrate pragmatically that, ‘their lives will still go on’. The human race, through time and ions; on one hand has the overall of tendency to produce some who horde wealth, resources and power and thus bereave the rest of humanity, while often in more ways than one brashly or subtlety, sought to enslave the populace. And on the other, find that the same human race conceives good men and women who devote partially or wholly their life to the elevation of the downtrodden and the subjugated. It is such gems of our society who render their time, intellect, money partially and sometimes wholly, to selfless service to humankind. While enduring names such as mother Teresa and baba Amte stick in our minds and are fondly remembered; it is heartening to notice people who walk in our midst; also having the same streak of kindness, empathy and action; to of their own volition, do good for the under privileged. This gives us hope, that in this present day of ‘each one for himself and God for all’; we also have God’s ‘angels’ who proliferate goodness not only through their words but through good deeds. At the time I am writing this, I reckon a quote by Henry Adams… “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops”, I think this is even more true for the impoverished, ailing and unfortunate people and more so children, who are touched by God’s ‘angels’ and who have derived the first hand benefit of such genuine, extended aid, support and concern for them at a time in their life, when they need it most and which often made the difference in turning their very lives around. One has great hope that the circle of life will bring forth more such evangelists of goodness who in turn will either ‘pay forward’ or be inspired by such angels, to forge ahead in elevating others towards a better world. One life at a time.

Time changes, things change and people have to change accordingly, a friend once gave me this mantra when I was in my first-year junior college and these words have been with me since then. Today as I read this article, it surprises me that these words which I will take with me to my grave stand true in every aspect of life. Case in point being this complex that you are feeling..the Saviour Complex, I feel the main reason why we all have this complex (up to different extent) is because we fail to come to terms with the truth of life, that “Change is the only Constant”. The mention of your daughter in the last paragraph is so relatable, my mother has said the same words to me so many times, that she will be my shield when I am weak, but I need to be a self-made woman. I think we all fail to understand that life goes on with or without us, as much as we may want to control, change, improve things, there will be times when things will not be in our control and the best way to deal with those, is to find a way to work around them instead of worrying about why this happened and that it shouldn’t have happened. It is good to take up responsibility of things, the way you feel responsible for the Abhyudaya girls is totally relatable, you are like a motherly figure for them, but it’s also equally true that we alone can’t be the centre of anyone’s universe. Everyone comes in the other individual’s life for a purpose, once the purpose is fulfilled, we need to move on and the beneficiary needs to then progress with the lesson he has received. A good business is not the one that has a great leader, but a great business that is sustainable and can keep increasing in the long run. It is humanly impossible to beyond certain number of years, but, some of the most renowned business in today’s date are the ones that were started in 1800s and are still and will continue to flourish. Thus coming back to your point, how have these businesses managed to be where they are….the leaders put a process in place that allowed the business to grow without being dependent on one person…As you rightly said…we need to watch out for the Saviour Complex.

I’m fascinated by the term ‘Saviour Complex’ you have talked about and I can also completely relate with it, but from a very different perspective. As the daughter of a mother who has worked very hard in her life to reach heights in her career, I grew up into a matured lady at a very young chronological age. By the time I had attained the age of 10, I was comfortable helping my mom with all the household chores while she was struggling with her PhD thesis. Between her hectic research, she always found the time to see to her kid’s needs, be it shopping for school or PTA meeting. I was too young to understand the struggle that she might have gone through back then. But as I reached my teenage, the reality of my mother’s past struggles dawned upon me. It was during this phase that I entered into the Saviour complex. I wanted to give it back in full for all the sacrifices she made in her life for my sake. I became very protective about her and allowed no one to talk to her even in the mildest sense of impoliteness possible, be it my sister or even my father. At one point of time, it reached such an extreme that I spent every moment of my life thinking about how to make her life happier. I took her along and made her experience everything that I had enjoyed as a young woman in my twenties. It was during one of those outings that my mom finally decided to confront me. It took her a while to muster up the courage to finally tell me that hogging on Panipuri from the roadsides was just not her thing anymore and that she would be happier if I just let her be. Though I was hurt to the core on hearing this, I eventually accepted the fact that happiness is something that comes from within. It cannot and should not be imposed upon anyone. I’m now out of the Saviour Complex that I built for my mom. I’m happy that she’s happy but I still find it hard to resist the urge to do something for her all the time!

Very poignantly put into words. Truly, charity changes not just the lives of the people on the receiving end, but also the lives of the people on the giving end. Winning some of the battles can lead us into thinking that we need to win them all. It makes us feel responsible to better the lives of those less privileged. The thought, that so much poverty and injustice exist, makes me wonder if life is just and whether it is fair for me to enjoy its luxuries. However, knowing that I have the power to do something, motivates me to work towards it. I believe that we all have the power to make a difference – through our thoughts, actions, or words. All we need is the will to do so. Being privileged, I feel that it is my duty to help the unfortunate who have been left behind in this world. It is our duty to promote the feeling of giving amongst those around us. And the best part is, it’s not hard to contribute. Even a small amount can make a massive difference.  Sometimes, the thought of people suffering, makes me feel helpless. There is so much I want to do and yet so little I can do to make their lives better. By helping in some way or another, I feel contented that there is something I can do about this. For me, giving is one of the few things that gives me the feeling of immense satisfaction. The key here is that we try not to change the things that are outside our scope, and improve everything we can in our circle of influence. I always remind myself about the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Interesting read ! The article is treading on a very sublime concept that is actually not very noticeable as a complex at face value. At this juncture of society, a humane perspective is always appreciated and much needed. We at various points have the urge to contribute significantly to the society and in doing so add value to our very existence. The article speaks in a very balanced way on how a very genuine concern for the society can in itself swing to extremes. It’s only true to say that we have our bouts of ‘save the world’ at various points and we are charged to plunge into action. This excitement lasts till it faces some realities – in this instance about being constantly wanting to be over-protective for the under-privileged kids/one’s children and coming in terms with the slow realization that there’s only so much one can do to ensure such control. It’s ironic to find the word ‘Savior’ paired with ‘complex’ – giving it an undesirable connotation. Yet, it actually exists rendering oneself vulnerable to impulsive behavior of just worrying or over-thinking without generating any productive outcome. My Savior-tendency too at times takes an unrealistic turn wherein I force-feed my standards of ‘perfect’ , ‘should do’, ‘shouldn’t do’ etc. This in-turn creates unnecessary pressure not only on me but on those I want to help! And when I am unable to accomplish my set standards of ‘saving’ or ‘helping’ , I am utterly disappointed in my own capabilities. This is the rut I get into every time – trying to save the whole world and not focusing on the small steps which I could have taken much more constructively. Of course there will always be a better way of doing things but I need to build on my capabilities of reaching out with much more poise and focus rather than fretting about the things I cannot control. It is definitely a task and a big learning for me personally even as I read your article on ‘Savior-complex’ – I need to hold fort only of things that I can best do and objectively ensure that my energies are focused on building – one stone at a time. Thank- You for helping me see this!

Thanks ma'am for this wonderful article. This is something I want to do in future. Being from Bihar, I know what quality of education is provided to poor kids. I totally agree that we need to build a strong system which make quality education accessible to everyone. We don't need to give hefty fees to private schools which is accessible to limited number of kids only. The root cause behind this difference is lack of good teachers who would willingly go to villages and spend a major amount of their life there. I strongly believe that teaching is something that we can't enforce, therefore we need talented people to come up on their own and contribute to this noble cause. If that is not possible then we need to provide education online. This can reduce financial burden on familes. At the same time we need to aware poor people about importance education and internet so that their children can learn and live a good life in future. I hope my thoughts can help in any way.

I had the same feeling when I used to visit Satkarm Ashram, which is an orphanage. After visiting the Ashram thrice, I felt a connection with the kids. Every time good byes were getting tough and I used to feel sad. “When will you be coming now?”, “Will you be coming tomorrow?” such questions by kids there used to make me go down on my knees. When we see children suffering and when we are attached to them it's bound to happen. I used to think about them all the time. I asked few of my friends to join me on my next visit and we arranged small programs for them. It is after my interactions with friends I understood that there are people who could limit their scope of involvement. This limit varies from person to person. I care for them but there are many other supporting systems too. We should try to be part of it rather being a supporting pillar. As you said same is the case in a family. Parents think about their children all the time. They always want to protect their children from the world. But at times too much hand holding might not prove good in children’s development. Like in my case I never got an opportunity to move out in a market and even shop for things I require for school. This made me dependent and that’s the reason I found it difficult when I moved out of home for my graduation. However, nowadays parents understand the difference between both. They care for their children but at the same time, they give freedom to pursue their career and live their life on their own terms. The article has beautifully quoted one thing that is 'Independence is one of the primary goals of childhood'. In every stage of life, if you want to become resilient and tough, you need to be independent.

What a wonderful & unique take on this complex phenomenon!!! This blog has made my mind venture into the dark sides of being a “Messiah”. For me, the term “saviour” had a positive connotation, so far. But as Charles Dickens said, “Vices are sometimes only virtues carried to excess!”. That means, anything in excess can be disastrous & hence, moderation is a way to success. I relate to this blog with a live example of my younger brother. I was extremely protective of him & never encouraged him to venture out on his own. In the due course, without my conscious knowledge, my responsibility underwent a transformation - from being a facilitator to being a regulator. As a result, even my brother closed all his thought processes & started relying on me completely for taking even routine decisions. He began to dip in confidence. In these 3 months at SPJIMR, when I am away from home, I now see of him as a completely transformed man. He is now able to think of new ideas independently & articulate them with confidence. And I could not understand the reason behind this change. But when I read this blog, I could decipher the mistake that I had made. I made him over-dependent on me.!!! As you rightly said, the role of a saviour should be to build an environment that encourages the mentee to take risks & venture out on his own. My duty was to stand by my brother & be his cushion during turbulent times. But I made a mistake of facing turbulent times alone & hiding him in my shadow. My job was to teach him new ways & not be his only way. This not only impacted my brother negatively but also overburdened & frustrated me at times. A similar analogy can be drawn to the group dynamics. Often, we think of ourselves as the only person who can work diligently, which ultimately fuels self-aggrandizement. When group members don’t respond in a manner we want them to, we take the onus of completing the tasks single-handedly. I don’t say that the person working alone to complete a project is at a fault. His actions are in response to the laissez-faire attitude of the group members. But in this process, the other group members are deprived of the experiences & knowledge that they could have gained had they contributed. So, always try & discourage the free-riding habits. With respect to Abhyudaya & Sitara, I now understand that I am a mentor, who can just facilitate my mentee’s learning & growth. Next year, I will pass on the reins to a new mentor & my mentee will have to adjust with him or her. So, I must make no attempts to become his godfather, that is, I must not make my mentee over-dependent on me. I completely agree with your point that business organisations look for leaders but social organisations & families look for strong independent ideologies!!!

I started my own NGO in 2014 called ‘Inspire’, where we worked towards providing a holistic education and better educational opportunities for children hailing from underprivileged backgrounds and on reading this article it felt like I could relate to each and every word ma’am had written in the article. The article is so well written that it shows a different perspective into the life of a social worker and some of the worries that goes through their minds and this is perspective that seldom people come across. Although ma’am has put across the fact that she has won a few battles subtly, it is this immense level of dedication and love for the children that helps win these battles, and each battle won usually ends up being the center of change at least for some of the kids that are there in Abhyudaya. Although I was unaware of the term savior complex, this was something that I was constantly going through during the initial few years of working with Inspire. The backgrounds of some of the kids were so harsh that I used to spend a large amount of time trying to incorporate as many kids into the program in order to ensure that all the kids in the society had adequate facilities and support to study as long as they want to. On a day about 2 years into the NGO, one of the kids in a shelter that we worked with stopped going to school and had left the shelter. We worked really hard to bring him back to the center and to try and convince him to continue his education but his grandmother was very adamant and they had taken him off to his house. It is at this point that I had realized that I am just one person and the limitations that I had in making an impact in their lives and that no matter how much work I put in I will never be able to make a difference in the lives of all my kids. Yet another point that I felt that was very relatable and that was very exciting was the importance given to sustaining the organization for the long run rather than thinking of the immediate relationship. If more people who were working for various social causes thought on these lines rather than working towards obtaining immediate benefits we would be having a larger number of organizations making impact on today’s society. During my final year in college, 2 years after starting my NGO, I was at a point where I had to either keep running the organization or create a system that was self-sustaining even without my presence. After my engineering I had taken 1 year off just to work on building such a structure to ensure the life of the organization. Looking back at my decisions and going through this article is finally giving me some closure on the fact that the decisions that I had taken might have in fact been the right one.

I would like to thank Deepa ma’am for this lovely insight. It felt like I was reading her personal diary out loud- it portrays the tumult she feels and at the same time the care she beholds for the bright Abhyudaya kids. I completely agree with her Saviour-complex dilemma. When we care about something, rather deeply feel about it, we tend to do everything possible at our level to bring out the best of it. For e.g. caring for a child, looking into his needs, saving him from trouble, seeing if the child is tended to. It is good to guide a child to help him at a task, but it is worse to do the task for him. Why parents? Coaches, teachers, motivators, counsellors, mentors all try to help their mentees but may end up overdoing it. As Deepa ma’am rightly mentions,“ Just because I have won a few battles, it doesn't mean that the whole world of the children revolves around me.”-she portrays how one or two instances of success cannot prove that the child is incapable of fighting his own problems. As a child, my mother never allowed me to travel alone in a public transport till std. 11. I did face issue in college because of this when I had to stay in hostel but I do not blame my mother for this. It’s just that she feared that I wasn’t very mature to cross a road on myself. She could have allowed me a bit earlier so that I had faced this trouble at an earlier stage- but she was unsure if I was ready. Here ma’am says. “I need to stop thinking that I am the only one making an impact on their lives.” Mature individuals should think and let the person live his struggles alone. Parents and mentors can try to be the anchor to the person’s ship and not the ship itself. They should let-go the children slowly at every stage of life to help them adapt to the harsh world. What if they’re not there when the child needs to depend on them at a later stage in life. If he doesn’t learn self-sustenance, the ruthless world will engulf him. There won’t be guardians then like now. Even a pigeon disowns its chick if it cannot learn to fly- the pigeon can teach the chick, push it to fly, but doesn’t carry it on its wings. It’s important for parents to understand that one day their wings will cease to persist. What then? It is then the child will suffer even more than what he would have if he was unable to perform in the first attempt. Facing undesirable circumstances calls for parents to provide assistance not performance. As Johnnie Dent Jr. says, “As parents we have a tendency to overprotect; it's okay to try and show them all positives but we cannot forget that the real world has teeth”. The last lines ma’am writes are phenomenal- “My role should only be to develop her own independence, to the point where she no longer needs me.”- it’s heart-touching to think that there can possibly be a moment where a child will not need his parent anymore- because they are constants for us, maybe not always physically present with us. But could our guardians just care a bit more to ‘Un-care’, as I call it, to allow their children to turn out strong-willed and independent as themselves.

This article by Prof. Deepa Krishnan highlights an important issue that not many would be aware of. NGO’s and many social groups play an integral role in helping the underprivileged and giving them, a level playing field. But the larger goal of these organization should be to empower them rather than just making them dependent on such organizations. But this is easier said than done. People these days are increasingly aware of their social responsibilities. Be it students who volunteer to teach or professionals who take up social initiatives, setting up social entrepreneurial projects. I have been part of such initiatives, which starts with a lot of zeal and enthusiasm. But family responsibilities, education and job opportunities catch up, in all this the founders would have to take a back seat. Because of this the movement started by them eventually fizzles out. It’s disheartening and frustrating at the same time. Once it has fizzled out it is difficult to get it back up and running. This can be associated to the “Saviour Complex” that is highlighted in this article. We need to understand that the initiative is bigger than the individual who starts it. This understanding at an early stage is critical. This would not only ensure that the organization doesn’t shut down it will also help them to carry on for a longer period of time. Being a dynamic leader and ensuring that the necessary work is done won’t suffice. We need to plan ahead, ensuring that the system runs by itself like clockwork. So, the focus should be on creating a programme where it continues with changing times. It needs to be done in order to have an effective system in place. This will make that organization sustainable and it will grow from strength to strength. Going forward this would serve as a great lesson for people who want to contribute to the society and start an initiative of their own. It is interesting how this concept extends to parenting. Parents sometimes can be overly protective and this tends to do more harm than good. This could lead to setting unrealistic goals and might push the child to take the drastic step. Considering the current scenario where student suicide is on the rise, statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reveal that close to 40,000 students in India committed suicide from 2011 to 2015, with 8,934 cases in 2015 alone. So, it’s time that people give some serious thought into it. Parents need to understand that they should allow their children to make their own choices. Be more of a friend and a mentor. This would ensure that the child pursues his/her interests and leads a happy life. This concept of Saviour Complex makes us realize that we need to accept the limitations that one is bound by. We need to understand it and focus on the bigger picture. For this we need to leave out our ego, apprehensions and concerns, rather focus on the task in hand.

I must admit that I have a philanthropic streak, though not as prominent as Deepa Ma’am herself. And yes I agree, it can take a mental toll on oneself. Either it can be the tasks of a current ‘social work’ that you have partaken in, or the guilty conscience that may arise if you haven’t done so for quite some time. Having had a fairly privileged upbringing, I have been yet sensitive to the needs of those underprivileged around me. It emanates from a general concern for fellow humans, that exists in each one of us. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?'" The Sitara programme is, naturally, one of the best parts about my study at SPJIMR. I avidly look forward to those weekend visits to my Sitara’s home. The way to helping others goes beyond the monetary. It can be in form of advice, education, social ties and much more. One of the ways of ‘giving away’ that my friends evolved was to celebrate one’s birthday amidst social outcasts, like autistic children. It really can be a humbling and enlightening experience. Another way has been microfinance, wherein one can invest small amounts in humble business ventures of the poor. Platforms like rangde.org have been quite useful to me in this regard. I agree with the assessment that one should tread light and easy while doing ‘social work’. One fictitious event comes to mind: the story of the stock-broker in the movie Ship of Theseus. Having been a relentless and pragmatic money-maker throughout his life, the stock-broker acquires new perspective after goings through a life-threatening surgical operation. While interacting with his ailing philanthropic grandmother, he resolves to help a poor guy get back his stolen kidney. His zeal leads him all the way to Sweden, where his final confrontation nearly gets him arrested. All he could manage out of his efforts were few thousand rupees for the poor guy, which the latter happily accepts. And his grandmother later remarks, “Itna hi hota hai” (“That’s all that can be done”).

I can totally relate with the ‘Saviour Complex’ that you mentioned. I suffered something on similar lines, though on a much smaller scale. Before joining SPJIMR, I was volunteering at an NGO called Make A Difference for an year. The mission of the NGO was to ensure equitable outcomes for children in shelter homes across India. There, I mentored a 9th standard kid named Sanket. I still remember the first time I had visited the shelter home. I was overwhelmed to see so many kids. Each one of them had a story as to how they ended up in the shelter home. One had lost his parents, another ran away from his cruel uncle’s place, yet another whose family couldn’t afford to provide him with a livelihood. Each story made me a little more emotional and a lot more grateful for all that I had. Around the time I started volunteering at the NGO, I would say I wasn’t the happiest person due to a few ups and downs that I was going through in my personal life. It had become hard to look at the good in life and practice gratitude. But when I met all the kids at the shelter, I couldn’t help but notice how happy they were. Running around, happy- as if they weren’t aware of all the stories they had told me. I realized I had something to learn here. A few months into mentoring, I developed a great bonding with Sanket. We got along so well. Much of our traits matched, even our interests such as drawing. I remember I once said to him: ‘Ye drawing toh tumne bohot achi banayi’ to which he said:’aakhir aap hi ka toh beta hu’. This and many more such incidents only grew my affection for him. With time, he started discussing his dreams with me, shared with me his fears and insecurities. The bond kept getting stronger and before I realized, it was time to leave. This is when the ‘saviour complex’ stepped in. Who will take care of him once I leave? Who’ll motivate him to believe in himself. Will he get to go after his dreams? All these questions worried me. I finally decided to talk to my fellow volunteers who ensured that they would make sure that Sanket and all other kids do well. I realized that I was limited by my role and there were so many others who would continue to take care of the kids. On the farewell day, Sanket and I talked for hours. I told him about the ‘abhyudaya’ programme at SPJIMR. He was excited to know that I would be continuing to mentor someone. While I was leaving, he told me that he was lucky to have me as a mentor. I smiled, but in my heart I knew that I was the lucky one.

Ma’am, you make an excellent point about the ‘Saviour Complex’ that develops among social entrepreneurs or those working in similar fields with the underprivileged. I have had a similar experience in a couple of social entrepreneurial setups and thought I should add to the discussion. I taught zoology to 12th standard students attempting their board examinations in Vellore, Tamil Nadu. These students were from rural backgrounds and could not afford quality education. Having studied in Tamil medium for the majority of their schooling years, switching to English proved to be a challenge. Their hardships in grasping basic concepts baffled me. They had difficulties understanding the subject matter in English, and the few times they did understand, they could not reproduce the answers in English. I remember there were times when their struggle brought me to tears. Those tears were not from sympathy, but from helplessness arising from an urge to make a difference. At this point, emotions got the better of me and I could see how I was exerting myself to no avail. I consulted a senior mentor and she offered me some priceless advice. She said it was our duty to offer the best we could to provide a platform from where they could head towards a self-sustaining future. But the execution of the plan and the effort has to come purely from the student’s side. While we can strive to innovate in the modes of teaching, an obsession to deliver them to success will never lead us to our goal. One may argue that when you volunteer for a cause, you need to drive yourself to a level of obsession to do justice to the cause. They also add that if you do not put your heart and soul into this kind of project, you will never be able to commit to the cause. What I am asking for is not to reduce this passion but to widen your lens and understand that you will not have control over your mentee’s decisions and actions in the future. As vulnerable as you think they are, we have to move past this reservation and give them room to err. Emotional attachment to the student, more often than not, hinders your efforts towards making life easy for him or her in the future. The point is to help them instil an ability to get back on their feet when they stumble upon hardships. The problem of the limiting reach of quality education is enormous and taking the entire baggage on one’s shoulder is unfair. As you have rightly said we only last for a few years in their lives. We have to appreciate other agencies of positive influence on them. Once we do, then we can focus on doing our best to prepare them for this particular period of time and not obsess over their long term security. It’s not easy being a hero, but then again you don’t need to be one. You give them super powers and then you sit back and watch them fly and fight their own battles.

The Savior Complex is an expository concept that most people in social work are prone to. We do tend to think of ourselves as saviors who are going to change lives and sometimes single-handedly rescue people from the clutches of poverty, illiteracy and all forms of social injustice. I know that when I first engaged with the Abhyudaya program, I was overwhelmed with a desire to develop a Tare-Zameen-Par-worthy bond with my mentee and change her life for the better. But I paused and re-evaluated my goals. A flashback took me to 2014. At the age of 19, I had applied for an internship with a rural NGO in Maharashtra. The Managing Trustee of the NGO, who was interviewing me asked why I wanted to work there. I answered that I wanted to help the rural women learn English and basic computer skills. She smiled and said "They will teach you more than you can teach them". Her response humbled me and at the end of the internship, she was proved right. In retrospect, I realize that I suffered from a form of the Savior Complex. I thought I could just swoop in and uplift them by transferring to them the knowledge that I had gained through a formal education system and a privileged life. But who was I to even decide that the rural women needed to learn English or computer skills? I was young, and my intentions were sincere. But I had overestimated the importance of the role I was to play. I suppose this Savior Complex stems from a sort of responsibility bias. We tend to overestimate our importance in making the world a better place and underestimate the influence and significance of other factors or agents in the picture. And maybe this comes from a predisposition to see ourselves positively. In simple words, we like to make ourselves feel good. This brings us to a new question - is altruism real? Why do we work for a social cause? Are we doing it because we want to help people and because we're concerned for their well-being? Perhaps. But is it also because helping others makes us feel good about ourselves? In that case, are we truly being selfless? But then again, I don’t think it is wrong to feel good about any social work you do. Feeling good about helping others doesn't diminish the quality of your work or lessen your sincerity. In fact, it may very well be a driving force that pushes you to add more value to your contributions. Perhaps the secret lies in a balance between feeling good about yourself and not falling for the responsibility bias. Maybe I should begin by acknowledging and appreciating the role played by the other people in my mentees life - be it her family, friends, school teachers or home tutor. So, as it turns out, I am but a student who is still learning from her and her world.

Thank you so much ma’am for beautifully capturing a problematic behavior which is so common among people and yet not receiving the attention it deserves. I’m sure most of the first-year students who are mentoring their sitaras go have this feeling of not being able to contribute enough to their lives. I remember talking to my sitara one day and wanting to bring so many changes in her life and feeling extremely helpless at the same time. This helplessness somehow used to demotivate me and the only thought that would come to my mind was that I wouldn’t be able to make any significant contribution in her progress. I was not aware of the ‘Saviour complex’ at the moment and reading about it in this article is reassuring. It has been rightly mentioned in the article that it does not just apply to you as a ‘social worker’ but also as a mother. There was a time when I used to help my niece with her studies and I could only do it for a few days at a time whenever I used to visit her. Thinking about it now reminds me of how I used to worry for days about her progress and her exams. I still worry about her and bug my sister with random questions but your words have made me realize that whether it is my mentee or my niece, I can only guide them. I cannot hold their hands and take them to their destination. Their future and the choices that they make are in their hands. Like you mentioned, my role is limited to guide her to be an independent individual and teach her how to make well informed decisions. This is an important message and needs to reach parents, especially Indian parents, who sometimes knowingly or unknowingly push their kids to set unrealistic goals. I think I have been very fortunate to have parents who never asked me to pursue a certain course or a certain skill just because they wanted to. They have always been supportive of my decisions. But there are so many kids whose every action is decided by their parents. It is more like the parents imposing their own dreams on their children. It often happens that children have to kill their own dreams in order to fulfill the wishes of their parents. Although parents have the kids’ best interests at heart and they only push them because they believe that doing so will make their lives better than their own but more often than not the outcome is undesirable. The burden of carrying their parents’ dreams results in people getting stuck at jobs that they hate or studying courses which they have no clue about and the worst of all, students committing suicide because of bad grades. I strongly believe that Indian parents certainly need to be informed about the Saviour complex and the effects it has on their kids. Instead of telling their kids what step to take, parents should focus more on teaching them the right values so that they are capable of making the right choices. With the world becoming more and more competitive day-by-day, we need to focus more on being the guide and less on being the protector.

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