We all want to be helpful, compassionate and caring human being (we’ll most of us do). Many of us, including me, try to practice this daily (yes, it can be considered a “practice”). Sometimes we don’t know what to do or what to say to help others. We want to serve, but how? Four words: “How can I help?”. With those 4 words you are 1) putting yourself at service and 2) giving the other person the power to make their own decision on what they need. When we see someone in distress, it’s human nature to jump in with both feet with unsolicited advice, maybe a lecture or unwarranted sympathy, etc. What about if you just said, “How can I help?”. Your friend now can reflect on what they need at that moment.
Note that this is not “can” I help it’s “how” can I help. Most of us feel that asking for help shows weakness. We do not want to burden others. With “can” I help, the receiver will most likely default to, “Oh, no, I’m okay, thank you”. When you change the wording to “how” can I help, you are saying, “I’m here to help, what can I do”. It seems like semantics, but it has an entire different feel.
Try to anticipate the needs of others. Again, because folks are reluctant to ask for and accept help, you can anticipate or intuit what they may need and jump in. For example, you’re visiting a friend in the hospital. Instead of asking, “Can I get you anything”, try “Do you want a chocolate or vanilla shake?” or “Do you was People Magazine or Vogue?”. Watch their eye light up. Or, to your multi-tasking, stressed out friend, “What time is your daughter’s ballet lesson over, I’d love to pick her up for you”. She’ll be thankful.
Speaking of visiting friends in the hospital, Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s book, “How to be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick” advises on how to offer comfort or just simply talk to sick friends. If you’re like me, you often don’t really know what to say. It feels like there are too many do’s and don’ts. “Have You Thought of Going to Mexico for Coffee Enemas?”, “My Aunt Hilda Had That, and…”, “Any of Us Could Get Hit by a Bus Tomorrow”, “How Long Do You Have?” and “You Have to Be Positive” are considered no-no’s by Didi Gluck in Real Simple. Perhaps you could just say “How can I help?”