Helping Your Friends and Family – The “Right” Way

I’m going a little off-brand today, though what I am about to discuss relates quite well to the concept of karma yoga. So, here we go.

This has been a weird few months in my life, starting with an unexpected but serious health event at the end of June, which coincided with a setback in the treatment of a long-term health issue, and then was followed by a broken foot (I’m now at week 6 of crutches), and a nice immune-system malfunction requiring antibiotics that make me sick. Getting old is a festival, but it sure beats the alternative. I know many others in my friend and colleague groups that have also been going through the hard stuff.

This has also been a pretty horrifying year on the world stage, and the U.S. has been a roiling mass of rage, entitlement, anger, and violence. That has produced a massive amount of sorrow and confusion for U.S. residents of all ages, as well as those watching from around the world.

So, I’m not alone in needing some extra help recently. But, asking for help is, for most of us, really hard. The individualism and belief in self-determination that characterizes the national culture has rendered many people almost incapable of asking for help. I see this in students who won’t go to counseling or tutoring (though I think more of the college generation are comfortable admitting they need emotional assistance than my generation is/was). I see this in friends who are in the sandwich generation managing the dual roles of parenting children and caring for parents, but not asking for support. I see this in colleagues going through serious health issues and trying not to do any less at work. And I see this in myself.

I’ve struggled mightily asking for help this summer. At home, I’ve been better with it. But, even there I tend to wait for my incredibly supportive spouse to come and say “do you need anything?” before I will ask (he understands because he is very unlikely to ever ask for help!). With friends and colleagues, it’s even worse. I’ve tried to miss as little work as possible, no matter how I feel. I’ve hauled myself up and down stairs lugging as much as I can on crutches because I don’t want to ask for assistance, and so on. All of this has made me think about how we offer and give help.

I think most of us have, at times, had a friend go through something – whether it is a surgery or a family crisis or an illness – and said “let me know if you need help.” We are sincere when we say it, but it puts all of the burden on the individual who is already dealing with something serious. It requires that the person suffering reach out to us and ask for the specific help needed, and that is not easy. And when there are others involved – if the person has a family or spouse somewhere in the vicinity – it may be even harder to ask for help from others without making the family members feel like they aren’t doing enough.

So, what is better? While I’m no expert – hence the “Right” in the title of this post – I think it’s better to offer specific help in ways that are more of an offer and less of a question. It’s better to offer help in a way that makes other people not feel that they are asking too much. It’s better to offer a level of help we can legitimately follow through on, because it’s really hard to get up your nerve to ask for help and get a no.

Instead of “Let me know if I can help,” maybe try:

  • I take my trash out to the curb/dumpster on Sundays. I’ll stop by and get yours around noon.
  • I go to the grocery store every Tuesday and drive by your place on my way back. I’ll text you on Monday to see what you need.
  • I’m making extras of casseroles for the freezer this month so I can use them over the holidays. I’m going to drop a few off.
  • I am headed to the laundry tomorrow after work. I’ll drop by and grab your stuff and bring it back ready for folding.
  • My teens could really use some experience with cleaning/yard work/pet care. Let me bring them over for an hour on Saturday afternoon. We’ll have coffee and they can get some stuff done.
  • I’ve been wanting to give that report/task a try. Let me do this one.
  • I know your spouse is making sure you get fed well, but I’m going to drop of dinner on Saturday so you can both take a break.
  • I’m going to get reiki on Saturday. I would love to go together, my treat!
  • I know you have to go to the X doctor on Wednesday and you should not have to do that alone. I’ll pick you up and we’ll go to lunch afterwards.

This kind of offering takes more work on the part of the giver. We have to think more about what the other might need. It requires us to be more authentic to ourselves and the other regarding what we are really willing/able to do. But, it takes the weight off of a friend, family member, or colleague who is already feeling burdenend, and that’s what we want to do in the first place.

Do you find asking for help a challenge? How about offering? What are your strategies for either one?



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