People need support, too. But most tell me that they don’t like to ask for help, because they don’t want to impose. In reality, most people are desperate to help. I see this every day from my mobility scooter. Last Sunday, an old man, whom I didn’t know, noticed me approaching my building’s front door. Pushing off with his cane for propulsion, he went into his fastest hobble and raced to open the door for me.
I thought this was very sweet, but he couldn’t open the door all the way, and his own body took up some of the space I needed to get through. So he wasn’t really helping much, but he was trying. I smiled at him, grabbed the open door, and said, “I can take it from here. You’ve been a big help.” I don’t know if he believed my lie.
But thinking we are helping when we’re really getting in the way is common for most of us. A young neighbor named Marcie told me about her efforts to help her roommate, Jenny, with some relationship issues. Jenny’s boyfriend had been mistreating her, including some pushing and shoving and a lot of insults. “It’s been weeks,” Marcie said. “I’ve been telling her to leave him, but she won’t listen. I gave her an article on communication skills and another one on abusive boyfriends, but it hasn’t helped. Now she’s starting to take it out on me, slamming doors, not even saying hello.”
“Ah,” I replied. “So she is still struggling with her boyfriend, but now it’s become your fault.”
I told her about standing in the doorway you’re trying to open. Advising someone to do something that they already know they should do rarely helps. “Just be there for her. Lead without leading,” I advised, borrowing from Lao Tzu.
Marcie is 23 years old and a senior at San Francisco State. She is planning to go into a Master’s program and become a family therapist. She is definitely tuned into helping people, so my advice to “lay off” was hard for her to hear.