Have you ever offered help to a child, only to have your hands virtually slapped away? I can do it myself! Have you ever offered help to a person with a disability, only to have the same thing happen? Have you ever thought about offering help and then thought better of it, because you didnt want to get your head bitten off? Theres an art to offering help, just as there is an art to declining it.
Twice, in the last couple of weeks, Ive been in a situation where I would have been extremely grateful for some help, but it was as if I suddenly had become invisible. Working with a new Seeing Eye ® dog is certainly a rewarding endeavor, especially when he does a stellar job of guiding, stopping at all the right corners, ignoring barking dogs, staying inside the crosswalk lines, slowing down for uneven sidewalks, finding the door to the shop where you want to go, and all the other hundreds of tasks he has to do on a trip to town. But there are days when one frustration follows another, and I wonder if hes forgotten everything he learned. On both occasions, I was trying to find a particular location, and in both instances, I had to depend on my dog completely to find the entrance. Many times, we can assist the dog by paying attention to sounds or tactile cues, but sometimes, in the end, its up to the dog. So there I was, standing in what felt like an empty space, disoriented, frustrated, and upset with myself for expecting him to perform this complicated task too soon in our relationship together. Was anybody around to give me a hand? Apparently not, for there was no kind voice appearing out of the air, as there have been in previous situations. (See my post called Stranded.) Or maybe there was someone near, but they didnt know how to approach me. If they offered to help, would I rebuke them? Would I be offended? On the other hand, they might have thought I looked confident and self assured. Short of crying, I havent mastered a facial expression that says I need help.
When someone pushes help at me that I dont want or need, I really do try to be polite and to explain why I say no thanks. For example, if Im in a restaurant or meeting room, and my companion offers to lead me out as a sighted guide, instead of letting my dog take the lead, I might say, He knows how to find the door. Id really like for him to keep in practice. Its only when they offer help thats insulting that I get impatient. No, you dont need to open the packet of sugar for me and put it in my tea. No, you dont need to stir it. Would you like to drink it for me too?
Woops. I mean, Thanks, but I can take it from here.
The art of offering help can be summed up in one word. Ask. Do you need some help? Would you like some help with that? Or How may I assist you? By asking the person a question, youre putting him in control. You are respecting his ability to know what he does or does not need. The response to such a question is much more likely to be polite and friendly than something like Here. Let me do that. Youre going the wrong way. Or Im moving your coffee so you wont spill it. Asking me if I need help will always elicit a better response than telling me.
In the 2 situations I mentioned above, if someone had grabbed my arm and dragged me to where they thought I wanted to go, I would have been very angry, but a simple question like Would you like some help would have been a huge relief. Sometimes, being independent can get in the way of your peace of mind. Sometimes, it can turn you into a rude obnoxious person. When you allow others the freedom of their independence, or when you recognize the right times to help or to accept help, the worlds a happier place.