You are in trouble. Big trouble. It is painful — emotionally, physically, or both. You could come to harm, maybe you could even get killed.
There is this person. He has power, he is able to help you. And it's not like he's too busy to be able to spend the time on you.
But he cares about you and wishes you well. And that's why he won't help you. Because he thinks that you need the experience. Or self-confidence. Or reputation. Because he thinks that solving your problems for you would be bad for your growth. Or that showing doubts in your ability would be impolite. And so, you are on your own.
Although this trope is about passively letting bad things happen rather than actively setting them up, it can apply to a Stealth Mentor or other Trickster Mentor that has set things in motion and then remain in the background while reminding himself that he mustn't step in. Might become a very reluctant Deus ex Machina that is really sorry he gave the protagonists that vital information instead of letting them find it themselves, or regrets that he removed That One Obstacle. One of the main tools of the Sink-or-Swim Mentor.
- This is one of the basic principles of teaching martial arts in Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple: it's repeatedly said that a martial arts mentor must not interfere in his (or her) disciple's fight with a non-master fighter, even when the disciple's life is in danger. However, mentors will avert this trope in slightly different situations should the danger truly warrant the intervention. For example, if a sparring (i.e. friendly) match goes out of control or another master attacks their disciple, they will interfere to break things up. (The former has happened once to Takeda, both once to Kenichi.) Another example involves non-fight-related life-or-death situations, such as when Kenichi is attempting to save his sister Honoka from some sharks and is unable to do much about it on his own.
- Urahara's method of mentoring Ichigo is this. He realises quite quickly that formal training won't benefit Ichigo, so he does little more than point Ichigo in the right direction for tough battles, and Ichigo then has to become stronger or die.
- Isshin notices that Ryuuken appears to be using Urahara's method on Uryuu. Uryuu thinks he's independant and defying his father by running off to help Ichigo in battle, but it turns out that Ryuuken actually allowed him to go precisely because Uryuu needs the experience and needs to get stronger.
- An explicit rule in Squad 11 of the Thirteen Court Guard Squadrons. These Blood Knights believe battles are one-on-one and will not step in to help a struggling comrade.
- One of Meta Knight's favorite excuses for not helping Kirby is that he needs the experience.
- It happens in Mahou Sensei Negima! during the Mahora Festival and Negi's final battle against the Arc Villain. Evangeline (who recently became Negi's magic mentor) and the school principal observe the fight and in one moment Evangeline forcibly prevents the school principal from interfering in the battle, because she wants her disciple to prove that he can defeat the adversary himself.
- Soul Eater: Discussed in the first episode. Shinigami and Spirit watch Maka and Soul struggle with an enemy and Spirit suggests helping them. Death responds that while they could defeat that enemy "with a single REAPER CHOP", that would not help the kids create a death scythe.
- Gourmet Girl Graffiti:
- Tsuyuko, Shiina's maid, prevents Ryou from helping Kirin and Shiina after they drop some ingredients onto the ground in episode 7. The girls also insist she don't help them, as they want to cook for her this time around. Ryou can't help but feel useless since she normally does everything herself. So naturally the two have a lot of trouble, such as accidentally burning some of the fish, and later breaking dishes while trying to clean them.
- Played for Laughs in episode 11. Kirin asks Shiina to pray for their success in passing the entrance exams for high school. She says that's a bad idea, and that you should rely on yourself rather than gods or other people praying for your sake. The sun shining behind her makes it look like she's imparting cosmic wisdom, and both Kirin and Ryou are "blinded" by her words. Or the sunlight.
- In Novel Volume 3 / Anime episode 8 of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, this is the reason given for why the Loki Familia doesn't help Bell defeat the Minotaur (there's apparently a rule against adventures interfering in other's battles to enforce this; this is an RPG-Mechanics Verse after all). Crosses over into This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself territory for Aiz and Bete.
- Dragon Ball Z
- The primary reason why Goku refuses to kill Majin Buu when he had the chance. He wanted the younger generation to handle it since he was dead and his friends couldn't depend on him anymore to protect them. It didn't work out so well with the Earth being destroyed along with everyone being killed except Dende, Mr. Satan, and Bee. Although, Goku somewhat got his wish since Buu was finally killed with the help of everyone on Earth giving him energy for a giant Spirit Bomb.
- Earlier, he tries to pass the torch to Gohan during the Cell Games and refused to help even when Gohan was getting the life crush out of him. He wanted Gohan to be the hero on top of wanting a fair fight. It take Piccolo yelling at him for being heartless before he was ready to interfere.
- In Goku's defense, he was right. Cell found a more proper motivation in threatening everyone -but- Gohan, but he wanted Gohan to unleash his inner strength and win where even Goku couldn't. Some trouble afterward aside, including Goku's own Heroic Sacrifice, Gohan did manage it.
- A theme that sometimes pops up in Superman. In one of the more memorable stories, the Guardians summon Superman and get him to at least consider the possibility that he is coddling mankind. It does cause him to adjust his approach a bit.
"Why don't you just put the whole world in a bottle, Superman?"note
- In Superman: Red Son, Superman so coddles the human race that people stop trying to avoid accidents, until Lex Luthor of all people nails him with an Armour Piercing Question that brings him to his knees:
- The sorcerer Arion shows Superman that he has been coddling mankind for so long that when something comes along that Superman can't handle, the human race won't stand a chance. By allowing lesser disasters to happen, Arion asserts, Superman would be allowing mankind to strengthen for still more difficult challenges.
- An interesting variation of this occurred in one story. An Elderly Woman in a crosswalk is about to be run down by a drunk driver, and she prays to God to let her live at the same time Superman swoops in and saves her. It turns out, the woman lives in the Southside Neighborhood of Metropolis (a.k.a. Suicide Slum) and was on her way to a church meeting to discuss the rise of gang violence in the community. The woman takes the entire series of events to believe God is on her side and starts confronting criminals. Of course, Superman hears this and comes to her aid each time, noting while it's not ideal to respond to this insanity, the woman was in danger and the people were legitimate criminals. Of course, this fails when the woman tries it and Superman is on the other side of the world helping with a much more serious problem. The result is that the old woman gets shot. Superman does visit her in the hospital and apologizes for not being there but it turns out, the woman is greatful... cause the community learned that Superman can't be there for them all the time AND the woman wasn't doing anything they themselves were not capable of and they could stand up to the local criminals themselves... starting with rebuilding some of the damage to the community.
- Batman makes a point of rejecting help from his super-powered buddies in part for this reason. He needs to do it himself and Gotham needs to fear Batman, not Superman.
- Sometimes a theme for the Justice League too. In a couple of memorable stories, villains have come along who seemingly solve all of mankind's major problems. The League notes that they want humanity to grow on its own solving its own internal problems while only being there to help when we're truly in over our heads, such as repelling alien invasions.
- In Supergirl story Hellsister Trilogy, the Girl of Steel is about to die after battling Mordru, but is saved by The Spectre. When she asks why he didn't intervene earlier to help the Legion of Super-Heroes, he explains that they had to win their own battles.
Supergirl: Why didn't you help us?
The Spectre: The battle had to be won by yourselves. Or lost. Sometimes I am held back in these matters. But I was allowed to rescue you, once the battle was done.
- In This Bites!, Squardo and Whitey appealing to Luffy and Ace's honor as pirates is the only thing that stops the latter from rocketing off to immolate Baron Omatsuri alive.
- Dragonball Z Abridged: This is why Goku arrives late to the battle instead of using his instant transmission ability to teleport home. He is immediately called out on this by Piccolo as it is an incredibly stupid idea.
Yamcha:: Why didn't you teleport to Freeza's ship and stop him.
Goku: I kinda wanted to give you guys a chance.
Piccolo: Please don't make a habit of doing that.
Goku: No promises.
- This is basically Yoda's argument for why Luke should not rush off to save his friends in The Empire Strikes Back, although he qualifies it by claiming that it's a test Luke just isn't ready for.
- Aahz in Myth Adventures taught Skeeve on an "as the need arises" basis and allowed him to deal with everything they met, keeping his interference as slight as possible unless the situation was very life- and
- In Tall Tale America, Pecos Bill says that, when he revamped cattle ranching, he
"[M]ade some of this work tougher than I had to, just to make sure we'd weed out the cry-babies. But I figured that with all these hardships to overcome, the cowpunchers would develop in time into a bunch of rootin'-tootin' heroes. It'd be enough of a challenge, you see, so we'd have a line of work a man could be proud to do. (...) It'll be a fine life, you see, if you have the good luck to live through it."
- Over the course of Galaxy of Fear, Tash's more studious nature and growing grasp of her own Force-Sensitivity gradually start to prove more useful than her brother Zak's Book Dumb brashness, technological skills, and minor physical advantage. Aware of this, by the last book Zak feels like The Unfavorite. When they meet Yoda, the Jedi Master holds Tash back and makes Zak confront the terror of the book by himself - Tash could have managed more easily, and of course Yoda could have effortlessly resolved everything, but Yoda wanted Zak to regain confidence in himself and discover his own Force-Sensitivity.
- A conversation between Father Joe and God in The Phantom of Manhattan has God explaining that the sinfulness and suffering of mankind is Inherent in the System; God has given Man free will and directly changing people from bad to good would violate it.
- Journey to Chaos: Tasio the Trickster, with all his godly power and wisdom, could remove any obstacle in Eric's path and defeat any enemy he encounters. He doesn't because he put Eric on that path specifically so he would overcome both on his own and grow as a result. At the end of both A Mage's Power and Looming Shadow he expresses frustration at such a hands-off role, but continues to do so because to do otherwise would stunt Character Development and prevent chaotic change.
- Jacob in LOST. Played straight on the island: He doesn't interfere, because he wants everyone to figure out the right thing to do on their own. Subverted in the outside world, as Jacob seeks out Kate in her childhood and saves her from a problem that would likely have been an important life lesson.
- Giles in the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He chose to abandon Buffy because he feels that she's making herself smaller than she is by clinging to him in a immature way. In principle he had good reasons, but the fact that he chose to make his stand right in the middle of a crisis, and forbade everyone else from helping Buffy as well, can only vaguely be justified by him following musical logic at the time. When he returns at the end of season six and finds out about every f'ed-up thing that had happened to the Scoobies in his absence, he apologizes to Buffy and states that leaving her was a mistake.
- Super Sentai and Power Rangers:
- Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger and Power Rangers S.P.D., once the Rangers' commanding officer becomes a Sixth Ranger, they start feeling that they can slack off and let him do the dirty work. Once he discovers this he refuses to bail them out of trouble until they wise up.
- Completely averted in an episode of Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, where a returning character (Fuuraimaru)'s Big Damn Heroes moment includes completely destroying a Monster of the Week who was curb-stomping Gokai Silver. Of course, in the very next episode Fuuraimaru becomes a permanent addition to the team.
- The premise of The Twilight Zone (2002) episode Azoth the Avenger is a Friend of Mine. A young boy dealing with bullies and an abusive father manages to bring his favorite comicbook hero to life. Azoth defeats the bullies, but loses against the father. Azoth explains to the boy's mother that he could have defeated the father with ease, but if the boy always relies on others to solve his problems for him, he'll never grow up. The boy and his mother stand up to the father and manage to defeat him.
- Near the very end of the series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation, it seems that Q might be about to tell Picard some new secret of the universe... then instead he pulls back, smirks mischievously, and says "You'll find out."
- Kids Praise: At one point in the fifth album (i.e. the camping trip), two boys have difficulty putting their tent up, and ask Psalty to do it for them. Psalty tells the kids that the challenge is their opportunity to grow, but he does give them some general problem-solving strategy tips.
- This is one of the main responses to the Problem of Evil, the question of how God can be Good, Omniscient and Almighty and still allow the world to become as horrible as it is. One answer is God is able to make the bad go away, and He does want the bad to go away — but this desire is counterbalanced by His desire that we will learn to solve our own problems and grow stronger in our free will and virtue.
- The other half of it is that if God always stepped in to prevent people from being dicks to other people, then there's no ability to choose to be a dick, which is basically pissing all over human free will and forcing us to do what He wants.
- Then there's the median between the two, that God is able to make the bad go away, and He does want the bad to go away — but He refuses to do so because humanity rejected him. He does intend to eventually make the bad go away, but is continuously waiting until the last possible moment so that the maximum number of people will have a chance to turn good and be eligible for saving; meanwhile, humanity's screw-ups prove that we need God.
- Of course, there is the counterarguement: God is actively doing something about Evil: He created everyone with purpose, but gave us the Free Will to ignore that purpose, again going back to an argument above. By the way... you gave some loose change to that homeless man you passed earlier today, right?
- Canonically a behavior that can crop up among Clan warriors in BattleTech. Since the Clans consider themselves pretty much the Proud Warrior Race, unwelcome assistance in a fight can actually be a pretty serious offense. (Some Clans are more flexible on teamwork than others, but the dueling code of zellbrigen is still an integral part of even their culture — the ideal battle for any Clan warrior would pretty much by definition involve a series of straightforward duels against Worthy Opponents.)
- The classic example is Phelan Kell's realization, at one point in the "Blood of Kerensky" trilogy after his adoption into Clan Wolf, that the other members of his Star are hanging back and letting him handle his fights alone out of sheer respect. (Being kind of busy at the time, he just makes a mental note to have a chat about teamwork with them later.)
- In Tales of Berseria, Rokurou Rangetsu is such a Blood Knight that he'll attack anyone who tries to help him defeat his quarry if he wants to fight one-on-one. This includes his own party members, with Eleanor nearly getting her head taken off when she stepped in between Rokurou and an opponent. This behavior is partly due to Rokurou becoming a war demon, which stemmed from his desire to kill his brother Shigure in a duel. He does grow out of it with time especially after actually killing Shigure towards the end of the game, but there were a few very close calls.
- MMORPGs such as EverQuest are the Trope Namer. In these games, killing monsters is a main source of personal growth for your character. If a monster attacks you and hurts you, you normally do NOT want someone to save you. If someone else attack the monster before you do, then that person has "stolen your kill".
- Averted in the MMO Guild Wars 2 though, where everyone gets full EXP and loot when a monster dies. In this case, helping becomes actually helping even if you're only in it for yourself. As a result, having the Big Damn Heroes come charging over the hill to save your beleaguered arse is the rule, not the exception. Considering that some end-game zones are positively overrun with Goddamned Bats, this is most welcome indeed.
- In World of Warcraft, the first person to attack a monster and deal damage (this is called "tapping" the target) gets the experience and loot. However, the game automatically reduces the experience award if a majority of the damage was dealt by another player, such as a much more powerful player, specifically to encourage this trope.
- In later expansions it's become increasingly averted; now, many quest-specific mobs can be "tapped" by multiple players of the same faction (and, in the case of most unique mobs or bosses, across factions), encouraging help even on an informal basis (previously for such a thing to work, the players would have to be in the same party, which is limited to 5 players). This proves an effective Anti-Frustration Feature for popular quests, where a player could have trouble even tapping a quest mob to kill it, since another player would get it first.
- Modern Warfare 2 gives powerful killstreak rewards for achieving a certain number of kills in a single life. Some players will get more annoyed at teammates who "help" by killing opponents than at the opponents themselves, especially when they "just needed one more kill for Harriers".
- Defense of the Ancients: All-Stars and the following games of the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena genre have heroes that benefit differently from getting money and experience: some (called supports) can get by with an inexpensive item or two, relying mostly on their abilities, while other (carries) require thousands of gold to be somewhat effective. This difference encourages use of the trope with support players giving up everything they have for the carry's growth, to hitch a ride to victory on the back of a farmed carry. This also explains why good support players are valued as much as good carries: they can stay in fight without taking any extra experience or gold and still benefit the team.
- This is pretty much the only reasonable explanation for why in the climax of Pokémon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum the much more qualified Cynthia doesn't step up to beat the Big Bad into a pulp- even though she's literally standing right next to you- and lets you handle him instead. The Pokémon Special manga averts this by nerfing Cynthia so she can take on Cyrus and lose. The show also averts this, since she doesn't just stand on the sidelines while Ash and Co. deal with Team Galactic.
- Subverted by Alder in Pokémon Black and White who actually DOES take on N. Since N had captured Reshiram/Zekrom and Alder was out of practice due to having been retired, it doesn't go so well.
- In Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald, neither Wallace nor Steven step up to help you against the Big Bad, despite being Champion-caliber trainers.
- Played straight again in Pokémon Black 2 and White 2. So you've just defeated the Black/White Kyurem that Ghetsis fused N's legendary with, and they defuse, returning N's Pokemon back to his side, and now Ghetsis is about to battle you. So even though N has this big Level 70 legendary right here that he could easily stop Ghetsis from battling you by sweeping him with it like he did the Elite Four and Alder in the previous game-he leaves you to battle Ghetsis himself. N does heal your Pokemon to brace yourself for his challenge, though.
- Kreia (as seen in the page quote) lampshades this in Knights of the Old Republic II, when you help people too much; by taking their burdens, you deny them the opportunity to grow strong by themselves. Whilst her take on this trope sounds a lot like the Sith philosophy, unsurprising given she is a powerful Sith Master, even a light-sided player can acknowledge it's a truth that needs to be taken into consideration.
- In Jade Empire, Smiling Mountain makes a similar point to Kreia when he explains that the Open Palm and Closed Fist philosophies don't necessarily correspond to good and evil (a distinction sadly lost for most of the rest of the game). He explains that a pragmatic follower of the Closed Fist can force people to handle hardships to grow strong, while an Open Palm practitioner might help everyone around himself to keep them dependent on him.
- Fallout 3:
- This is the reasoning that certain companions give for not being willing to turn on the irradiated water purifier, despite being immune to radiation. The DLC fixes this, with Fawkes the Super Mutant stating that while he would initially say this, you've changed his life so much that he might as well change yours. The developers' explanation for this is that recruitable companions were implemented quite late into the game's development (which also explains why the player character is insistently referred to as "Lone Wanderer").
- Incidentally, companions helping can be literally killstealing; you don't get XP for people they kill who you didn't deal much damage to. This was thankfully rectified in Fallout: New Vegas.
- As a meta-example, this is why Crutch Characters are so looked down upon by the Fire Emblem fandom. While attacking and defending alone give modicum experience, you get much more from kills. Also, experience gained scales by a mix of level and rank; a lvl 5 paladin only gains a fraction of experience a lvl 3 cavalier would. Units that start at low levels also have greater potential than their veteran counterparts, so using nothing more than that paladin or general the game literaly hands you for the first few chapters will leave you woefully unprepared for the larger scale battles later in the game. This is the reason that most players de-equip the Crutch Character as soon as possible, and simply let it act as a meatshield for the first few chapters, before either ditching it (if, as often is the case, it's not viable in the endgame) or using it more conventionally (if it actually is viable in the endgame).
- Subverted in Disgaea 2: When you frequently summon Kurtis to help you in battle, he eventually responds that you need to learn to stand on your own...and then decides to help you anyway, since you can't learn this lesson if you die in battle.
- In Skyrim, it's very unlikely that you'll get travel from Riverwood to Whiterun without seeing a group of Companions fighting a giant. Help them kill it and they will praise your valor; watch from the sidelines and they'll criticise your apathy. For the latter, you are only allowed to say that you didn't think they needed help or that you didn't think that you could help, when the real reason might be that you truly didn't want to steal their kill. Or that they killed it before you had a chance to interfere
- While present in the World of Tanks, with the usual experience for kills and damage, the players subvert it. The huge bonus for winning a battle outweighs individual kills so much that most players have no problem with another player finishing off the tank they were shooting at. A small exception where that kill might offer a medal, but even that is fairly mild.
- Played with in Monster Hunter: The monetary reward for a quest is divided up amongst all participants. A quest that rewards 6000 zenny will give 1500 zenny per player in a four-person partynote , while doing the quest solo will reward you all 6000. On the surface, it seems like the best way to make money is to tackle quests by yourself. However, quests go by much faster with a party and don't diminish the item rewards (which can be sold for cash anyway), so repeating the same quest with a party is still a viable option if you're low on funds.
- Subverted incredibly hard in Neverwinter, whose mechanics actually encourage going full Chronic Hero Syndrome in any situation. Players who fight monsters get full loot, experience and credit for the kill regardless of whether they're in a group or who landed the killing blow. Heroic Encounters dot most of the higher-level maps and anyone can jump in and join the fray without it hurting anyone's chance of getting good loot. This leads to instances of players stopping to help beat a group of enemies someone else is struggling with very commonplace.
- When City of Heroes was active, for the most part players respected the rule but it wasn't uncommon for a higher level character to stumble on a lower-level character battling one of the random mobs on a map and hang around watching and if the player looked like they were going to be defeated, intervening by either buffing the other player to give them a chance to continue, trying to pull some of the attackers away, or using some kind of non-damage ability to distract the attackers to give the other player some breathing space. In situations where the other player was obviously so outclassed and outleveled they didn't have a hope of defeating the Non Player Characters, the higher level players would simply rush in to make the save, even if the difference in levels between the rescuer and mob was so much the rescuer wouldn't get any XP out of it at all. In other words, in a game where you played as a superhero, many players actually acted like heroes.
- In Galaxy Angel, this is Forte's reasoning on not directly helping Chitose's inability for flexible thinking. Left alone, she will cause disaster sooner or later, as evidenced in the aftermath of a particular mission where she froze up, never expecting the freighter she rescued was an enemy in disguise, despite nigh-blatant clues. However, telling her directly would most likely backfire, as Forte herself puts it:
Forte: "If I do tell her 'suspect everything beforehand', she will start suspecting even the regular coffee she drinks, thinking it is poisoned. It's not something you learn from the Academy; she's got to do this on her own."
- Young Justice:
- Red Tornado, the team's guardian, points out that they need to solve their problems as a team, rather than have the Justice League come in when things get tough. It also handwaves why the team is on their own so much, even when the League can easily respond to a crisis within minutes.
- Averted however in "Downtime" when the team was curbstomped by Clayface and Batman arrived to save them. Though he did chew out Aqualad for his poor leadership, though.
- In a darker twist, this is how Vandal Savage characterizes the Light's motives.
Vandal Savage: Fifty thousand years of life, and nothing ever troubled me as much as the founding of the Justice League. Dedicating to maintaining society's calcified status quo, the League would protect mankind from disaster, crime, tragedy of any kind. Had you never heard of the survival of the fittest? In essence, you heroes sought to protect humanity from its own glorious evolution."
- A common theme in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, especially with Celestia's relationship with her student, Twilight.
- This trope actually kicks off the show: Celestia could keep teaching and supporting Twilight normally, as she has for the past few years, and Twilight would naturally grow into a famous mage, beloved by Equestria's ruler and goddess. But then she would become dangerously isolated from other ponies, unable to ask for help or work in a group, and she would forget how to relax and have fun. Hence, Celestia sends her to study in the peaceful country town Ponyville, away from Celestia, where Twilight will basically have to bond with ponies in order to get anything done — and certainly to fight off the evil, other goddess-pony, who is breaking out of her prison...
- This is the reason the fans wanked out for why Celestia never directly helps the Mane Six take on any villain in the series. The Season 3 finale more or less implies this to be the actual reason.
- In the end of the Season 4 premiere, Discord reveals that he planted the seeds thousands of years ago that sprouted and attacked Ponyville, and had he bothered to say something they could have solved the problem much sooner. When Twilight asks why he didn't speak up, he more or less references this trope.
Discord: And rob you of a valuable lesson of being Princess? What kind of friend would do a thing like that, hm?
- On Futurama, this is the reason God says He doesn't interfere in events too much, and why when He does, it's subtle enough that people can't tell for sure if He did anything.
- The Transformers: In the Season 2 episode "Prime Target", Astrotrain learns the hard way that Lord Chumley considers the Decepticons' offer of help to capture Autobots as this, especially right after Astrotrain effectively KS'ed him by shooting Optimus Prime in the back as it was tussling with Chumley's robot scorpion drone.
Lord Chumley: NO! He was MINE!