how can I help?

The Christmas we spent in England, there was a series of television ads for a grocer with the tagline something like, ‘How can I help?” I’ve tried to google it with no luck, but this active inquiry to helping reminded me of what sets Disney and Ritz Carlton apart from other places with great customer service: Active Engagement in what the customer wants.

I’ve come to realize today (I’m having a flare up, so lots of time to think/process/do practices) that for the last couple of years I’ve been on a “unlearning the things you think help people, and just asking people what they need (and if they don’t know, then not thinking I’m clairvoyant or omniscient and deciding what they need… if they don’t know, let them know I’m available when they can articulate what they need. So unlike how I’ve done it (and thought it should be done) all my life. And liberating. And probably a lot more helpful.

Today I mentioned on a body fulness call that we all are part genius and part fool. We have areas of profound, experiential knowing and areas where we are such idiots, we don’t even know that category exists much less how wrong we are about it. The idiot parts reveal themselves during things like “The Presence Process” (have I mentioned I’m doing this? Fourth round, I think, but maybe 3rd)… Anyhow, through this process, I am seeing that I valued anticipating others’ needs and acting on them as a strategy for love as a kid, which was a fine and effective strategy but not a healthy way to interact with life or people as a general policy.

I got to be an excellent mind-reader for a few people, and then seemed to think I had it pretty figured out for everyone. I realized some time ago – I think even before the illness – that me trying to anticipate and act on needs people couldn’t even articulate was crazy pants. Way too much pressure. Maybe I could’ve done things like that as a kid with predictable household habits, but out in the real world it was a recipe for disaster and the textbook setup for miscommunication. So, at some point during our time in RI I quit cold turkey, with the general public at least. I did not assume I knew what was best for you. I’m happy to help, but you’re going to have to tell me what you’d like.

Intimate relationships was another story. Because, you know, I knew what was best for everybody I truly “knew” right? Well, I seem to have thought so. About 2 years ago I had a somewhat major expression on how thoroughly that is not the case (detailed here, I’m sure) and in the last week or two I’ve come to realize that if I maintain a sense that “I know what would work better” it’s an unfortunate way to live.

I’m extremely lucky. I’ve had a lot of choices pan out (although God knows I’ve had a lot of choices very much not pan out), and I’m married to an embodiment of prioritizing effort to high-impact areas. I squandered a lot of energy on “being helpful” to people who weren’t into it, or even if they were into it, weren’t ready for it; where ultimately the effort didn’t result in positive outcomes for me or the intended helpee.

Recently in a book I enjoyed, it talked about thinking you would do something differently if “x” happened to you… (as I write this, I think it was Byron Katie) and the lesson was coming to understand that we are literally all one: that person is handling “x” exactly how you would handle it if you had “x” happen and had been raised and had the same experiences as that person. It’s what we’re all doing. We’re all unique amalgamations of traits. And while if “x” happened to us, with our unique experiences, of course we wouldn’t do exactly what the other person would do – of course not, we draw from an entirely different experience well. but it doesn’t make one choice better than another, even if the results of one choice seem to provide the desired outcome more efficiently than the other choice. Like everything, the long-term results remain to be seen.

Thus: my new favorite phrase is “I’d like to support you. Please let me know how I can be supportive to you.”

It’s a tough question to answer in 21st century America. We’re supposed to be independent. We’re proudest when we don’t have to rely on anybody. (there was a whole bit earlier in this writing about trying to read people’s minds: there’s a whole passive aggressive archetype who thinks “it’s not worth anything if i had to ask for it’ and ‘someone who loves me should be able to ‘just know’ what I need” and those are very unproductive mindsets. Just wanted to make sure that gets pointed out in this essay). For some, it’s frowned upon to ask for things. Selfish. Bold. [ok, boomer!]

It’s wildly freeing (for everyone) when we can consider and articulate our needs. I’m excited to encourage this wonderful trait in all I meet and truly desire to support.