Can we really help each other? And, if so, what does useful help look like? Even in the area of emergency physical assistance where needs seem obvious, there are still questions about what kind of help is best and how it can be delivered most effectively for long term good.
I think of my experiences as a recipient of others’ assistance, and I find a few things have been consistently true for me when I have received offered help. So here are my observations about what is and is not helpful:
Advice that is not asked for is rarely helpful and often feels like a judgement rather than support. Even when requested, advice is only helpful when it is qualified by knowledge of the giver’s limited view (as in, “ignore this if it doesn’t speak to you”) and based in experience.
Platitudes, no matter how true, rarely penetrate the dark shell of despair. Telling someone it’s all about unconditional love or that the only thing that matters is friends and family just rolls off the back of real grief, anger or terror. The possible exception to this is when the platitudes are put to music. So, if you must, hum a few bars of the Beatles’ “Love is all there is,” don’t say it. Similarly religious or spiritual “truths” that are abstract are best kept to a minimum. Telling someone they must “learn to be unattached” when they are experiencing the pain of loss is not helpful.
I have been helped by many: those who could listen without judgement; those who could speak from their own experience; those who could just sit with me in our common human struggles; those who were good at creating a container where I could express my vulnerability (a couple of wonderful therapists come to mind); those who could laugh and cry at the same time; those who made me a cup of tea; those who would allow others to help them when they were in need; those who could work with me instead of simply for me; those who offered what they could without depleting themselves or putting themselves at risk.
So the next time you need help, it might be good to pause and consider what kind of help you need and who is likely to be able to provide it. And the next time you want to help another, it might be wise to pause and reflect on and ask about what kind of help might be useful (making suggestions is okay- sometimes when we are in dire need we don’t know what would help. ) Considering what your unconscious motives may be can avoid causing unintended harm to yourself or another.
It shows great strength and self-knowledge to ask for and receive the help you need. Mostly what we have to offer each other is our presence, our open-hearted willingness to sit in the messiness of being human together and lend each other a little courage and faith when one of us is feeling that courage and faith are hard to find. While it is true that we each have our own path, that doesn’t mean our lives aren’t enriched by offering and receiving help along the way.
(c) 2012 Oriah www.oriahsinvitation.blogspot.com