How May I Help You Helpfully?

Life is just like a theater and we are players in this theater, where without collaborating neither there is any story nor any theater. In real life we play different roles, helping each other and this particular performance is so deeply added in our lives that no civilized society is complete without such performance.

Helping each other is so instinctive and natural. For example imagine a scenario where you are accidentally locked up in a room and you are yelling for help but no one is coming. Now if someone tells you that there are five people standing out of your room, you may probably think many possibilities regarding their enthusiasm but will not consider their reluctance to help. You may think they are deaf, or they do not understand what you are saying due to language issue, etc., but you will never think that they intentionally don’t want to help you. In such like many other cases we take people’s help for granted. Similarly we take these informal helps e.g. young boy helps to infirm and old age, man helps woman, as for granted.

We may reluctant to admit, but we know that most of our social relationships spin around a simple rule i.e. ‘if you help me, I’ll help you.’ And this give and take, can sometimes feel transactional. In fact, we can see how closely our social relationships reflect the sense of economics by looking at some common expressions e.g. we ‘pay’ our respects and ‘pay’ attention. We speak of the “pay-off” when something goes well. And we are “owed” the courtesy of a reply. Economics is deeply surrounded in our daily lives. We expect to have ‘equitable’ social interactions i.e. a fair ‘exchange’ with colleagues, loved ones and people we meet in daily life. For example, when you decide to share a personal problem with a good friend of yours, you expect him to listen attentively and take you seriously. It wouldn’t be an ‘equitable’ exchange if your friend simply yawned and got up from the table or, if after requesting his attention he abruptly changed the topic. Similarly, if you offered money to a homeless person so he could buy himself food, you might expect some kind of thanks, although just a grateful nod. And if he didn’t acknowledge your help at all, the whole equilibrium of the ‘helping relationship’ would’ve been upset.

But helping, even at the request of help, is sometime awkward instead useful. A toddler may stumble many times trying to stand or walk, you may be keen to help him each and every time by putting your finger in his hand so that he may not lost his balance, but you are not helping him at all but making him more dependent each and every time he tried to walk. So there is a difference between productive and counterproductive help. Sometimes help can demonstrate long time effects e.g. if your kid asking you to do his homework and you just, in the eagerness to help, do the same, then maybe in future every time he would feel difficult to complete his homework. On the contrary you should have to ask him why he cannot complete his home work on his own, is there any problem he is facing to learn or is there any problem in his class that he want to share, etc. Often helping action required long lasting effects rather than temporary, just like Confucius said ‘If your plan is for one year plant rice, If your plan is for ten years plant trees, If your plan is for one hundred years educate children’.

Social dynamics make difficult the ways we help each other. To successfully assist others, one should be sensitive to these dynamics. When we get help, we suffer a loss of self-esteem and status, while providing help gives us the upper hand in a way which can be counterproductive. As help-givers, it’s best to inquire with humility and encouragement about the problems you are attempting to solve.

But it does not mean that you can help everybody so simply. Sometimes helping is not as easy as it looks, because most of the time asking for help is not always as simple. As one can feel a loss of status while asking for help and it feels much anxiety for asking someone’s help particularly in western countries in a competitive work culture.

Meaning of helping can vary and be different in understanding of every person. So often, it is better to say NO to help someone, than to say yes, just to satisfy your ego that you can help or that if you refuse it would jeopardize your all-rounder personality. For example, if your teacher asks you to crack a computer error and you don’t know how, it can be persuasive for you to fix it anyway. But, if you lack the expertise, you might end up making things worse. As helping opens up the possibility of an ego-boosting social encounter, it’s difficult to say NO, even when our help might be a nightmare than useless. Such problems relating to helping begin with imbalance between helper and client. This is the first crucial step to overcoming the obstacles that prevent a healthy helping relationship.

The manner and technique as to how offer, give and receive help is beautifully explained by Mr. Edgar H. Schein in his book named ‘Helping’. He quoted that while working as consultant for a group of European executives, whenever he entered in executive dining room, nobody will look into his eyes and ignoring him to save face in the eyes of other executives because they were ashamed to have even wanted consultation.

So the question remains that how to helpfully help someone? It would be best to begin with humble query to learn that what the basic problem is of person asking for help. We have got two ears and one mouth and in order to avoid any misunderstandings, it is best first to inquire. Because mostly the problem is not what is presented and is not full story. Helping people is all about listening. Before we listen, we first need to make a humble inquiry. For example if someone pulled over his car in front of your house and ask for some workshop, now you can either just give him address of workshop or ask him that what would be his destination. It is possible that workshop would be just a landmark or turning point to go somewhere and you can guide him exactly the place he wants to go. Such inquiry will bring both helper and client on equal footing. Another purpose of humble inquiry is to restore confidence in person seeking help so that he might begin to help himself. For example, a child might be embarrassed to tell his parents that he is not able to tie his shoelaces. But by restoring his self-esteem, perhaps by asking him that we all find it difficult to tie shoelaces at first, he might attempt the knot with more confidence.

Social dynamics make difficult the ways we help each other. To successfully assist others, one should be sensitive to these dynamics. When we get help, we suffer a loss of self-esteem and status, while providing help gives us the upper hand in a way which can be counterproductive. As help-givers, it’s best to inquire with humility and encouragement about the problems you are attempting to solve.

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