Sunday, September 9, 2012

Thanks to those who truly help

People seem to think that the way to help people is to try to reform them.

Sometimes it's a lecture about changing your attitude.  One such lecture says you have a lot, you should appreciate it, there are many people who wish they had what you had.  Then there's another lecture about how you can do anything if you just believe in yourself and work hard.

Or, the attempted reform could be about a change of behavior rather than about a change in attitude.  They say, "You should exercise more," "You should go out and socialize with other people more," "You would have more energy if you drank acai berry juice every day," "You should turn to God," "You should get a different job."

When people try to reform me, I don't experience it as helpful.

When people lecture me, nag me, or tell me what to do, I turn away from them.

There are however things that do truly help me.
  1. There's a song by Don McLean, "If We Try," that says, "let me watch while you live."  Sometimes if people would stop trying to reform me and just be present in the moment, I would learn a lot more from them.  Three times last spring, I was fortunate to be able to go on a nature walk with someone.  He didn't lecture me on what everything was.  If he had, it would not have stuck in my brain.  Instead, I appreciated the opportunity to be present, to be witness to what he was noticing.  He pauses to listen to a sound, and then I too notice that sound.  And one of the most inspiring things for me in learning music came from the same person, when he told me of how the way he got to where he is, knowing so much about music, was by spending hours messing around with music, figuring stuff out.  After years of being told that I just don't have musical ability, I realized that if I just mess around with music, I can figure stuff out.  And that's what I've been doing.  What helped me was not a lecture on how I should approach music, but being witness to another person's experience.
  2. Providing useful resources helps. These resources may be labor, information, or physical objects.  There are many tasks which are just physically easier when you have help than when done alone, like carrying heavy objects or setting up tents.  There are many things other people know that I would like to know, so I appreciate when people can answer my questions, like "What kind of bird is that?"  People can teach me things like dance steps and tai chi.  When I have a lot of people over for dinner, there are a lot of dirty dishes afterwards, so I appreciate it when my guests help with the cleanup.  I don't need a lecture that tells me "You should get a different job," what I need is someone to say, "There's a job opening here that would be a great match for you."  This category of help is tricky,  because it's only helpful if it's what the person actually wants. If I'm carrying something heavy, I may appreciate help, but there's also a point at which it becomes offensive if it seems a person assumes that I am incapable of carrying even the lightest thing.  The job referrals one is especially difficult, because people tend to think that I should be interested in jobs that I know really aren't a match for me.  I know that people can't read my mind, and I try to communicate, but sometimes my communications seem to fall on deaf ears.
  3. Praise really helps.  When someone tells me that I'm doing something right, then that's something I will grow.  At Morris dancing, even though I'm a beginner and can't do it right, they told me that I'm catching on really quick.  So I kept coming back, kept practicing, kept trying to learn it more.
  4. Being allowed to be useful really helps.  The article "How Kids Benefit from Chores" conveyed to me that when we let kids participate in gardening, cooking, and cleaning, we are letting them know that they have something of value to contribute.  In the article, after  the kids washed the floor, they "were admiring how the floor caught the light," and looked "satisfied with a job well done."  I think one of the most difficult things for elderly, sick, and disabled people is feeling that they don't have anything of value to contribute.  If you want to help someone, start by appreciating their contributions.  

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