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Meeting the Urge to Help


Have you ever felt that you really want to help people but don't know how? Have you had a calling to ease the suffering of those you know and love, or even those you may not know so well, whom you can see are struggling? Have you ever felt completely overwhelmed by the grief and hardship facing so many people that it has almost frozen you to the spot?

Research tells us that we are hard-wired for altruism, for connection and for empathy. Our biological systems have evolved with the understanding that our survival and our quality of life is directly related to the relationships we have with others and the fundamental knowledge that we are all connected. There are "Mirror Neurons" in the brain which mean that we are able to feel what we observe in others, which often prompts us to want to ease the pain of a fellow human being. We react strongly to feelings of neglect, abandonment and betrayal, loneliness and isolation as these experiences directly threaten our sense of survival, perhaps not even consciously, but at a deeply cellular level.

Within the social sciences and more and more in medical and educational institutions as well, there is an acknowledgement of the importance of inter-human relationships for the benefit of our physical, mental and spiritual well being. There is also a somewhat traumatic recognition of an ever growing disconnect and dissolution of the fabric of society, with more and more people appearing to suffer. In African culture, there is an understanding that when one person suffers, everyone suffers and that our humanity is innately tied up in the humanity of others. They practice the philosophy of "Ubuntu" which promotes generosity, kindness and support of one another. In fact, many cultures worldwide celebrate and honour our shared responsibility for the health and happiness of those in our global community. The Dalai Lama states that "a meaningful life is a life which is dedicated to helping others".

So what does this mean for us in everyday life? What can we do? How can we meet the urge to help others?

"The smallest act of kindness is worth far more than the greatest intention."

The greatest misconception I have come across in this discussion is the idea that we are not enough, we don't know enough or we don't have enough skills to be able to make a positive difference. People seem to believe that in order to be of assistance, we must offer some grand gesture of heroic proportions and save one from themselves, but this is not the case. Most often, people do not want or need to be saved or fixed. What people crave is to be seen, to be heard and to be valued. When we are able to meet these needs, simply by showing up, we provide an opportunity for enormous transformation to take place. We become almost accidental catalysts or facilitators to the magical self-healing that occurs in the presence of a compassionate witness. All that is required is that we put our own story aside and be truly present with and for another.

Here are just 10 ways to uplift and help others (which don't require a degree). You can refer to this list to support a friend or family member in crisis and you can add to it with your own ideas too.

1. Show up. Organise a get-together- meet for coffee, go for a walk, make an effort and stick to plans.

2. Send a card, an email, a letter, even a text message to let them know you are thinking of them.

3. Include them in your world. Invite them to share in events or experiences that you enjoy (even if they decline, the invitation will mean a lot).

4. ASK- "How can I help? What do you feel you need right now? Is there someone else I can contact for you?" Do not assume to have all the answers and do not be afraid to ask what someone needs- if you can't provide it, see if there's someone else who can.

5. Offer practical help- drop over some food, offer to do the shopping, cleaning or babysitting to give them a break.

6. Humour- never underestimate the power of a good laugh. Send funny pictures or stories, go to a comedy show or movie together.

7. Get creative- work with them to put together a vision board or photos or a representation of their favourite things, or put a soundtrack together of some really cool music.

8. Have a pamper session together- get your nails or hair done together, go shopping for a new outfit, help them redecorate the house, go to the gym or do a yoga session with them.

9. Take them to appointments or call and check in after their appointments. Show that you are interested and that you care.

10. Research, listen and refer. If the person you really want to help has a specific condition, find out everything you can about it, see if there are support services available for friends and family to better equip you as a support person. LISTEN without judgement- listen to understand, be open, curious and loving. Ensure that this person has access to and engagement with professional services and support if required.

We can all make a difference. We can all answer the urge to help. We can all create a ripple effect of loving kindness that may reach well beyond the initial point of contact. Never underestimate the power of small, consistent acts of service. We are enough.

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