by Rebecca Crichton
I often give my ‘Happiness is an Inside Job,’ presentation to audiences both virtual and in person. With a live audience, I ask: “How many of you like to help others?” Almost everyone raises their hands. Then I ask, “How many of you are good at asking for help?” Hands go down, people look away. Discomfort gathers.
“Look around,” I say. “What is this about? We know we like how it feels to be someone who helps others. Why is it so hard to allow others to help us, to let others feel good about helping?”
Of course, this is not a simple question with one easy answer. For me, I could see how what I say and what I do are different. The extent to which I do or don’t ‘walk my talk’ is one only I can speak to.
My conversation with my friend made it clear to me that I want to change how I respond to offers of help. But I also know that how the offer is expressed matters. When it comes, as it usually does, during some kind of crisis, the generic offer can feel too vague and, well, generic.
I read recently that if someone is grieving or sick and you want to help, it is best to be specific with what you are offering. What is it you really want to do and can do? Meals, shopping, help with animals, rides to doctors, childcare?
Offering might feel good, but if the request doesn’t feel right, be honest with yourself and your friend. If the thought of shopping with someone who is disabled makes you cringe, don’t offer it. If you don’t want to take the chance of making food they won’t eat or has too many requirements, don’t include that.
And if you need help for whatever reason, then think honestly about what would be most useful. Maybe it’s just a visit or a pint of ice cream or other food that can be picked up. Perhaps there are errands that you can’t get to: dry cleaning, stopping at the drugstore or post office. Ask if those are things the other person can do.
The more specific both sides of the give–receive spectrum can be, the more we can really feel connected.
Just remember, saying yes and asking for help doesn’t mean you have to reciprocate to that person. It doesn’t mean you will never be able to help others. It also doesn’t mean that if someone can’t meet our particular need that they won’t ever be able to help. It does mean you have allowed another person to be helpful. It does mean you can admit you need help now, not forever.
Welcome to ‘Club Human,’ as a good friend likes to say!