How can I help?
By Sue Ellson
I know from my own experience of life, that I have needed help from time to time.
But it is not always easy for someone with my education, ability and persistence to ask for help.
What I do know is that I don’t want people telling me what to do. I have met many people who want to share their prescription of what it takes to have a ‘successful life.’
In my case, this most typically starts with people suggesting to me that I should be more selfish and only do what helps me earn a living rather than continue with my goal of providing useful information, events and advocacy for newcomers (which I have done since 2001).
This was driven from my own personal challenges of moving interstate. I learnt, through a variety of my own mistakes and ultimately a lot of research, about what really works and helps newcomers, expatriates, skilled migrants and repatriates when they move to a new location.
It isn’t sympathy. Or service. Or isolation.
It is availability. Empowerment. Companionship (and my Seven Best Settlement Strategies).
It was when I found my first friend in my new location that I had access to what I needed. It was when she let me ask questions and show me how to do things that I became empowered. Because she was in my life, I had a sense of companionship and started feeling okay to be me. As it turns out, she had a long background of moving to new locations, so she instinctively knew what I was going through. We have been friends since 1994.
On my life journey, I have met a lot of people who have been in crisis situations. It can be very difficult to think of the right thing to say when someone is in crisis – and invariably, it could make matters worse, especially if it triggers off some other negative association.
But what I have found that has always been useful is just one simple question:
How can I help?
It is not about me telling the person what to do or how to do it. It is asking them to identify what it is that they really need at that point in time. It gives me the opportunity to help the person in the most beneficial way possible without second guessing what is going on for them or assuming what they may need.
If you would like to be able to help another newcomer you have met, or a person in crisis, you can be a real life saver. If you have already been through a similar experience, I am quite sure that you will be able to remember the challenges you faced. At this point, keep your thoughts to yourself and simply listen to what the other person says after you ask the ‘How can I help?’ question. When they know that they have someone who can help if it is needed, it can be all that they need to overcome their present challenge.
If you ask the question ‘How can I help?‘ and the person makes an unrealistic request, you can decline. You don’t need to be a doormat to others. However, in most cases, I have found that the requests that are made are often very simple but very important. For example, when a relative of mine had a daughter diagnosed with cancer, when I asked her this question, she simply asked me just to talk about anything, except cancer. She wanted a little bit of normality in her life.
What I also know is that all I wanted for myself when I was a newcomer was someone to ask me, ‘How can I help?’ It wasn’t helpful to me when they said, ‘Just ask if you need anything.’ I didn’t know what I needed and I would still have to ask for assistance rather than have the assistance offered and just accept it.
If they had offered to help directly, I probably would have said, ‘I am not sure at the moment, but I would like to be able to come back to you after I think about it.’ This would have created a bit of personal security via a backup plan and would have eased my anxiety.
I was reminded of the ‘How can I help?’ question when I stumbled across the Dean of the Faculty of Education at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, James E. Ryan‘s
5 Essential Questions in Life
You can listen to these in detail below.
He suggests that there are five questions you can ask yourself and others throughout your life.
Question 1. Wait, what?
Is at the heart of all understanding and helps you gain clarification about the current topic.
Question 2. I wonder why or if?
Is at the heart of all curiosity and helps you remain curious and think about ways you can improve the world.
Question 3. Couldn’t we at least?
Is the beginning of progress and helps you get unstuck and get started.
Question 4. How can I help?
Is the basis of all good relationships and helps you ask with humility for directions and allows others to be the experts in their own lives.
Question 5. What truly matters (to me)?
Is at the heart of life and forces you to get to the heart of the issues in your life, your beliefs and your convictions (and can be used in place of a New Year’s Resolution as a great question to ask yourself at the beginning of every new year).
Bonus Question. And did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?
When you look back over your life and the pain and disappointment that you have endured, can you identify the joy and contentment you have experienced? This is based upon the poem ‘Late Fragment‘ by Raymond Carver [1938-1988], an American short-story writer and poet.
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
I trust that these musings will help you identify ways that you can help yourself and ways that you can help others. After all, there is an innate desire in all of us to help others and armed with this knowledge, I hope that you can find simple new ways to do so.
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