If You Want to Help People, Here’s What Not to Do

help people

While wanting to help people is an important part of being a better person, it’s also important to make sure that you’re heading in to the situation with the right kind of intention. 

Because even though wanting to be of service seems like a noble idea, it’s pretty easy to have an attitude that makes you more of a pain in the butt than an actual source of help.

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For example

if you go in to a situation thinking that YOU are the only one who can fix things; that YOU are going to be the savior on the white horse, well, that makes the situation about you, not about the person or group or cause you’re supporting. And guess how helpful that is? Not very. 

OR, maybe you approach the situation as a problem that needs to be fixed. And that means you’re likely to be so focused on what’s wrong that you will get disenchanted and frustrated because all you notice is what’s NOT working. 

OR if you go into a situation with a headful of ideas about what the right solutions are, you will likely miss the point, particularly if the person or people you’re seeking to help is facing something that you haven’t faced yourself or that you haven’t really developed empathy for. 

I learned this particular lesson from a six year old

In early 2017, after Trump was elected, we had a neighborhood meeting of families to talk about how we could come together to give back to our community, because we knew that the kids heard us talk about things like the Muslim bans and immigrant detention and the environment, and we wanted to give them a chance to talk about what they were worried about and brainstorm ideas for how we might be able to help as a community. 

At the meeting, we asked the kids what was on their minds in terms of helping others, and one little boy who was in first grade said, “You can’t give a homeless person an apple,” which we had to drill down on a little bit to get what he meant but it was essentially, “If you give someone with bad teeth a food they can’t chew, you’re not helping.” Meaning, if you don’t understand the realities of the person or group or population you’re seeking to help, your great ideas have the possibility of not being helpful at all. 

So if you DON’T want to head into a situation thinking that you have the answers to solve the problem, what in the heck should your intention be???

When you are trying to figure out how you can be of service, you want to set an intention of going in with open ears, mind, and heart. At some point, yes, you’ll have to decide what you actually want to do in terms of helping out, but the first step is to observe, ask questions, and listen to the folks who are directly in need of help. If you’re volunteering to lead the PTO for example, survey the teachers, the administrators, and the parents before you set an agenda. If you’re trying to support a friend or loved one through a tough time, ask how they are and listen as they share their experience. 

You don’t need to be the brains of the operation. You want to at least start off being the eyes and ears, so that you can observe and listen. It’s through listening and having empathy for the people who are in need of help that will help you figure out what actions will truly be of service. 

Daily Tiny Assignment

Your tiny assignment is to remind yourself that your true intention is to listen and to seek to understand what’s really going on, as well as what’s truly needed, before you spring into action. Learning how to listen is a skill, but it’s also a practice. So making being of service a bigger part of your life is also a great way to strengthen your listening muscles.

Come back tomorrow when I’m talking about how to balance your self-care with helping others, and questioning if it’s really true that you need to make sure your own cup is filled before you can be of service to anyone else. 


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