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“Is there anything I can do to help?” is a magical question.
Sometimes people have a difficult time asking for help (they are either not comfortable with it or simply don’t know how to ask without appearing selfish or needy). And sometimes people are so independent they don’t even think to ask for it.
And whether or not someone takes you up on your offer, simply asking if you can help is a supportive gesture to show that the person you are offering to help matters to you.
Helping others is not only a great way to build friendships and improve relationships, it can also improve a person’s day, project, or experience beyond measure.
Never feel bad for offering to help someone and they decline your offer (for any reason). Some people are also not very good at recognizing the intention or the thoughts behind a supportive gesture.
Helping people is awesome.
From a comment: Better yet, don’t even ask. Just do.
Sometimes people don’t look like they could use the help — so it’s not obvious how to help. But by asking, it helps answer the question.
I am one of those people who has a difficult time asking for help. I’m very independent. I feel that if I can do it myself, even if it takes me longer, then I should probably just do it myself. And I also don’t like to appear needy. (Hey, we all have our “things”.)
So when someone asks me if there is anything they can do to help, it can help me get over that “hump”. It also opens up a dialogue that can help strengthen a friendship or relationship.
While there is never anything wrong with trying to help people, there are times when people would rather do “it” themselves than have someone else do “it” for them.
And there are times when people will actually take offense at you doing something for them that they can/want to do themselves. While I don’t think taking offense at helpful gestures is the right thing to do, this is also why I think asking can be helpful (in those cases).
There are also times when we think the best way to help is by offering “advice”, but advice isn’t always the thing that’s truly wanted or most helpful. Especially advice that is given in a “this is what I would do” way, without regard to the context of a person’s journey. Because even our best advice that might help most people, doesn’t necessarily work with all people (the square pegs in the round holes, for example).
And there are times when we think we’re being “helpful”, when we’re really not. Such as when someone tells us they’re depressed, so we say, “Cheer up!” or “It’s always darkest before dawn!” (these things sound nice, but are not particularly helpful to a depressed person).
I think Allie Brosh in her Depression Part 2 post covers that exceptionally well.
“My fish are dead.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll help you find them. Are there any clues where they went?”
“I know where they are. The problem is, they aren’t alive any more.”
“Let’s keep looking! I’m sure they’ll turn up somewhere.”
When people don’t understand the real issue, they tend to offer advice that doesn’t fit the context of the situation. So again, helping people without asking can sometimes lead one down different path than the recipient of the “help” wants to go.
That said, I totally understand the sentiment. I do open and hold doors for people. Or try to find ways to help people when I can (especially when they are obvious). For example, every creative type could nearly always use a hand getting more exposure. People who write stuff
like love to be acknowledged. That sort of thing.