Supporting Strangers -- An Explanation

WARNING! If you believe that support or random acts of kindness should be done from the heart with unconditional commitment and no examination of motive or mechanism, you are going to loathe this page. Please stop reading now.

For everyone else: this is a page about the gritty details of doing support work, signing the guestbooks or sending ecards to people you don't know very well. This page tackles the ins and outs of the support process, the rewards and pitfalls, and gives the basic on how to keep giving supporting a rewarding experience.

Table of Contents
Good Support The Basics Common Concerns
Problems and Solutions GIVER Problems RECIPIENT Problems
Closing Note Back to Angels Gotta Fly Back to The Ladies' Advance main page.

Good Support

Support work is one of the internet's most rewarding pleasures. Support happens when you give an encouraging message or a bit of attention, usually via a guestbook, to an individual or family who welcomes that mesage and who has asked for such attention. What could be better then doing a good deed that you know is absolutely wanted? Better yet, you can do this good deed on your schedule and as many times as you want though at different locations. Builders of a certain style of web site welcome support messages from any one including people they don't know and that includes you. Good support does not exploit either either giver or recipient, creates no ongoing commitment between the parties, and leaves the giver ready ready and happy to keep on giving.

Support work replaces the support all of us once got as part of a small town or village long ago, and in some ways it's better since you will never know much about the recipient beyond the story he/she chooses to tell. Nobody likes to be ignored, and the net offers a way for individuals to get their message out and ask for attention. As a support worker, your job is to give a small piece of that attention and then walk away, except for perhaps praying for your recipient or writing about your experiences to stay focused. Support work is a usually done once for each recipient and then it's time to move on.

Support work is also very showy and public. Web pages by their nature are public and most of the ones that have guestbooks that allow graphic gifts such as those in the Ladies Advance and RAOK galleries. You are also free to make your own gifts, though finding a server to remotely load them from can be a bit tricky. This web page is in paid space that permits remote loading with unmetered bandwidth.

The Basics

There are three ways to do support work: The first is to be lucky enough to be part of a support committee or team for an organization. Members of the organization who feel they are in need fill out a form. Also friends occasionally fill out the form for friends. On the form, they explain their situation and then the request is sent via email (often with several other requests) to the team members. The team members then visit the guestbook on the recipient's web page, or if she does not have a web page, they send an e-card with an encouraging message.

In the second method, a member of an organization reads the organization's mailing list or web board for "prayer requests" or other demands for attention and then performs support for those in need.

The third method occurs when the giver performs "random acts of kindness" and simply visits a web page and signs a guestbook. Finding those who want attention can be a problem. The Angels Gotta Fly web page has links to lists of sites whose owners want attention, divided of course by category.

My first support work was done as part of RAOK's Angels of Kindness. My first recipient was a woman who had nearly died of a miscarriage. I struggled to find the words to put in her e-card. I used one of two support pressies I had made that weekend. These were the third or fourth pressies I had ever made. I remember that the act felt good but also very new and strange. Would I ever get used to giving support?

Giving support as part of a team is in many ways easier than seeking out recipients. You know the recipient wants the attention and the committee membership gives you a little bit of a platform from which to base an act that feels unnatural and awkward the first few times one tries.

Most of the support discussed on this page and done through the Angels Gotta Fly web page is random. You will have to seek out your own recipients. The good news is there are always plenty of people waiting for your bit of positive attention.

Common Concerns

Everyone reacts to support differently. For some people, it may come as naturally as breathing, but if you are unused to the kind of personal web sites whose owners seek attention, suppot work will feel extremely strange. You can usually silence most concerns by considering the glass half full rather than half empty. Let's work through the basic concerns:

These people are crazy! They are not crazy. They are telling their own stories. There is nothing wrong with that. Given the right events in your life, you might want to tell your own story too. Telling one's story on a web page is a safe way to do it. It avoids having it challenged on a web board, usenet group, or internet discussion list. On a web page no one tells you that they have heard it before. You can add to the story and embellish it and tell it for as long as you like. You can also ally your web page with others of similar subject through web rings, or compete your web page in contests for web pages of the same subject. Many of the pages on the Angels Gotta Fly lists, are in just such competitions. This means that the owners want the attention you bring them.

These people are just out for attention! You are probably right, but how many of us get as much opportunity for attention as we really need? Not everyone lives in a large city, has access to a good support group, or adequate informal support. It is possible to tire out one's family, friends, or acquaintences. Then where does one go? Remember it is good to go where you are wanted, and these people want you!

Also remember, you are using the web as an opportunity to do good. Obviously real life is not fully meeting this opportunity for you, but where real life falls short, support work begins.

I can't find the words to say! Oh yes you can. Remember you are dealing with people you don't know very well, so stock phrases are fine. "I care.". "I'm here for you." "You are in my thoughts and prayers" "Best of luck to you." all work fine. This is why pressies are a big part of support work. There is not a lot of depth, but there are good reasons to keep support work shallow. (See below.)

I'm a nonChristian! No problem. If you find proselytizing distasteful and land on a page that does a lot of it, skip that page. It is helpful, by the way to learn the difference between personal expressions of faith and proselytizing.

As for prayer requests, these are requests for attention. A simple "I care" messages will suffice. Most guestbook messages can include encouragement without prayer so, this shouldn't be a big deal.

I find this so depressing! If that story makes you really uncomfortable think about why.There may be good reason. If you feel you can not give support, try a different page or a different category. Just as in real life people put their charity dollars to different causes, you may feel more comfortable with some kinds of pages than others. If sickness makes you squeamish and bereavement makes you depressed, try pages of artwork, graphics, poetry, music, or even math problems. Supporting the arts and creativity is necessary and fun. If you can not stomach 9/11 tributes or certain types of politics or religion, leave those pages alone. You decide where you go.You are needed so many places that the hard part is choosing.

This is so shallow! Depth is overrated, but more seriously, the shallow nature of support work is protection. Put another way, a moving target is nearly impossible to hit. Some recipients engage in problem behaviors. (See below) If you sign the guestbook and leave, those behaviors remain the recipient's problem, while you remain able to work with recipients with whom you would not want an ongoing relationship.

This is voyeuristic! You may be saying this because something you saw on a web page really bothers you. This may be an indication to take a break or switch categories.

Also remember the recipients publish their stories to the world. They tell the stories that they want you to see. They have control over the message. You are not prying into a space where you do not belong. You are watching a public performance. If you are a "private person" you need to recognize that your recipients usually are not. You also need to realize that just because your recipients choose to tell their story to the world, does not mean that you have to follow their example, though if you should ever want to, you will know how having seen many examples. You can learn fairly painlessly when you have support work because you are always free to move away from what offends you.

Back to the top of the page.

Problems and Solutions

This section shines a hot white light on an assortment of difficulties that crop up periodically in support work. If you are used to a typical ladies group mailing list, you may find the writing here unkind and judgemental, but no one, including the recipients, gains anything by pretending that everyone whose guestbook you sign is a suffering blameless angel. Everyone who asks for it should get support. But to give even problem recipients among us effective support, givers need to be able to shield themselves. Givers who find pages congenial to their tastes and outlook on life and who know how and when to pull away, will be likely to keep on giving and encouraging others to give, rather than becoming burnt out and disillusioned.

Most support problems occur when recipients want more than simple attention or when givers try to create a relationship that has more depth than a quick encounter with a guestbook. Both givers and recipients are people who have not been able to meet the need to do good or receive attention through friends, family, or colleagues. That means that both givers and recipients may be carrying a fair amount of baggage. Inside the giver and recipient roles, are people who can be very troubled. Staying in the role of giver and being wary of an extended commitment to a recipient, keeps support work an enjoyable experience. In addition, support work relies on a number of commercial providers who are out for profit rather than making life easy for those who give support.

The list of problems is unfortunately, a long one. This does not mean that support work is inordinately difficult. A lot can go wrong in a variety of ways when either party strays from the path of providing and accepting a small bit of encouragement or attention. The shallow nature of support protects the giver and recipient from one another, and unfortunately, both need protection. Here is why:

GIVER Problems

As a GIVER, I wish I were contributing to an email discussion list, usenet group, or web board! This wishful thinking leads to a nasty mistake. Knowing where you are, should be self-explanatory,. but old habits die hard. Guestbooks are public Guestbooks are noninteractive. If you feel the urge to offer constructive criticism or html help, the guestbook is not the place for it. Bite your tonuge. Your recipient is asking for support. If biting your tongue does not work or if you really feel you can offer some asisstance (a referral to a support group or a government web page is an example), you should obtain the recipient's email address and send them a private email.

As a GIVER, I have privacy concerns. Unfortunately, these are all too real. I don't have any problem with full names but a lot of people do. I feel you should not leave a message any where that you can't sign your name. If you are one of those people who is squeamish about names, use a handle.

As a GIVER, I don't like pop-ups, malware, midi I can't turn off etc.... Yes, this is a problem and yes your concers are VALID. Do not download Gator or Comet Cursor. Close those pop-ups. Esc will stifle most midi as will turning off the sound on your computer. If you can't stand a page, leave it. There are many other guestbooks whose owners are happy to have you sign them.

As a GIVER, I have concerns about spam. This is a true case of no good deed going unpunished. Spambots routinely go through guestbooks, and all manner of unwanted commercial email appears in your inbox regularly as a result. To prevent this place NOSPAM or several xxx's in your email address, refuse to give your email address, or get a throwaway email address for guestbook signing. Alternatively you can just hit delete.

As a GIVER, I can't stand the recipient's page. You can't read it or load it, or you disagree violently with some of the things the recipient says. You feel that he recipient is proselytizing you for her religion or politics or manipulating you in some other way or asking for money or is a fraud. The solution here is to realize it is OK not to like the page, and if you are offended or unable to read it, leave the page. You don't have to sign guestbooks on pages you detest. Give your support where you feel more comfortable. Don't let the recipient's problems become your problems.

As a GIVER, I expect gratitude for my good deed. Most likely if you left your email address all you'll get is a piece of guestbook detritus, a form thankyou letter the guestbook routinely generates. Once in a while, you will see a personal note or there will be a message in your own web page's guestbook, but don't expect this. You haven't done all that much for which the recipient needs to be grateful.Your recipient has after all given you the opportunity to do good.

As a GIVER, I WANT a long term relationship with my recipient. With an untroubled recipient, who is interested, this should be no problem. I was on one recipient's update list. She had a grandson with heart trouble, and she sent out a group newsletter. There are two other recipients whose guestbooks I sign periodically.

The problem is that not all recipients want long term interaction. Remember your recipient has chosen to use a web page rather than join a discussion group or interactive support forum.

A more deistressing problem is that if you have chosen a problem recipient, her problems are now your problems.

Back to the top of the page.


The RECIPIENT thinks her suffering has made her different, special, and superior. She may have wisdom, strength, special insight, or the RECIPIENT or her child is the also recipient of a miracle. Such a recipient often calls herself a survivor. The problem with this is that you and the rest of humanity are chopped liver. The recipient's arguments are incontravertably right. The recipient's story trumps all others. The recipient's special status dictates how any forum of which she is part runs. I hope you can see why it is no fun to be around special people for any length of time. You can usually tell if your RECIPIENT considers herself special by reading her story. Fortunately, you are on her web page only to sign the guestbook and leave. Since you are not having an ongoing relationship with the RECIPIENT, she can find her chopped liver elsewhere.

The RECIPIENT thinks she is performing altruism when she tells her story. Usually the tip off here is that the RECIPIENT is promoting "raising awareness" for a common disease or social problem such as heart disease, domestic abuse, diabetes, or cancer. Since there are already a great many credible and authoritative groups with woinderful educational pages on these well known subjects, the RECIPIENT is reinventing the wheel. You may wonder if she knows this or if she is lying to herself. The advantage of either ignorance or self deception, is that the pose of altruist gives the RECIPIENT an incontravertable argument and power to dictate to her more selfish peers. Altruists like special people can be painful to be around in a long term relationship. You after all, are just a humble guestbook signer. Sign the altruist's guestbook and and scram.

Note: occasionally, personal pages can and do raise awareness for extremely rare conditions or valuable advice on how to live with a medical problem. Band-aides and Blackboards is a classic in this genre. Sadly I don't think it has a guestbook.

The RECIPIENT is asking for more than support. The recipient wants money, gifts for her child, or votes in a web site competition. Hold on to your wallet. If you really want to send cash, make sure that the address of a bank or trusted third party is listed on the web site. PayPal does not count. That's just a way of collecting funds.

As for competition votes, that means getting a daily or weekly reminder letter from the RECIPIENT. She may have an email list for this purpose. It also means going to a comeptition URL four or five times a week and inputing your email address, checking off your recipient on a form, and hitting return. For one or two days, this sounds fine, but most fighters are in competition for months at a time. Picture voting five times a week for several months on end. Are you still interested? To make things worse, the RECIPIENT may NOT be interested in personal correspondence. She is trading votes and has an inbox full of other people's reminders, and no time to read your letters. Think twice before committing to vote for a site fighter.

The RECIPIENT is proselytizing for her religion or politics. First, there is a difference between expressing one's faith and insisting that others adopt it. Please know that difference. Second, remember you are only here to sign the guestbook and leave. If it really bothers you, then don't sign the guestbook at all. You don't have to sign guestbooks on pages you detest. You are wanted in lots of other places.

The RECIPIENT is partially or fully responsible for her troubles. The classic example of this was a prayer request from a mother for her ten year old son who was hurt in a motorcross accident. What was a ten year old kid doing racing a motorcycle? Shorthand for this and similar problems is "bed-made-lie" as in "you have made your bed. Now lie in it." Just remember, you don't have to crawl into bed with the RECIPIENT. Sign her page and move on, and while you sign the guestbook, bite your tongue. The RECIPIENT wants and probably needs support, NOT your well-meaning but unsolicited advice.

The RECIPIENT is committing fraud or has munchausen's syndrome by proxy. You probably won't ever know with absolute certainty that your RECIPIENT is lying, malingering, or fabricating her child's illness to gain attention, but there are tip offs that something is not quite authentic. A RECIPIENT who claims to be a member of a learned profession such as law, medicine, clergy, or university faculty, yet who does not give full name and educational information may well be a fake. A child who writes like a religiously minded adult with an moral axe to grind is probably an adult taking that role. Photographs of children that you recognize as stock photos from other places on the web are another dead giveaway. If you suspect fraud and there is no money involved, you can still sign the guestbook. Just sign and move on. If the fraud really bothers you, walk away. Fraud does most of its damage if it asks for money or is a part of repeated or long term contact.

Back to the top of the page.

Closing Note

Please, whatever you do, don't let the problems scare you. Remember you are the one who chooses which web pages you visit and what guestbooks you sign, how long you stay, and whether you come back. You are also out to do a good deed where you are always welcome. If you remember that, keep it focused, and keep it brief, support work can be a wonderful and rewarding experience. So...what are you waiting for. Give it a try.