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How to Help

Don’t Wait to Be Asked

Your true potential for helping needs you to act.

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Photo by Hennie Stander on Unsplash

Last week, a friend and neighbor told me about her experience trying to help a stranger at her door, a woman who showed all the symptoms of drug addiction. She was hard to understand, seemed unsure of what kind of help she wanted, and clearly needed more help than my friend was capable of giving. Another neighbor got involved, but in the end this woman just wandered off alone.

None of that prevented my friend from feeling like she’d somehow fallen short. It never feels good to be asked for help that we can’t really give. This is a common mismatch, between the help needed and the abilities of the helper. But asking is the predominant way for help to happen, in everything from daily needs to rescuing Holocaust victims.

Most of us give or help in a way that I describe as opportunistic. That doesn’t mean we help to benefit ourselves, but rather that we wait to help until we’re asked. It’s how most donations to charity happen, for example. The majority of people don’t give after doing research into the best organizations for their dollars. Instead, they give to the charities that ask, whether it’s at work, home, school, or church. It’s opportunistic giving.

This is obviously inefficient because the charities that are best at asking often have less or little impact. (This is true for many causes, like human trafficking, for example.) Ideally, we’d all do our research and pick the best causes. That’s a newsletter topic I’d be happy to cover if I hear from you that I should write it.

But waiting to be asked also means that your talents go wasted. It’s odd, when you think about it, that we so often wait to be asked for help. We don’t do that with our careers; we go search for the best fit to our skills. Yet for some reason we don’t make the most of our unique abilities to help.

How do you best share your skilled help? Here are some ideas:
  1. If you know someone who sees a lot of requests for help, like a minister or a social worker, let them know how your talents can be put to use.
  2. Volunteer for an organization that needs what you’re good at doing.
  3. Look for a common need and develop new skills that can be useful.
It will always be true that there’s good help and bad help in the world. And we’ll always need asking to make sure that help is found. There will always be opportunistic giving. But cultivating better help takes deliberate effort on our part. We can’t wait around to be asked.

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Things to Read

Why Richard Branson’s Flight Matters

This article makes the best case that I think can be made for billionaires spending their wealth on space flight. I’m still not persuaded that the opportunity cost is worth it.

How and Why to Do a Life Audit

In the spirit of today’s article about deliberate instead of opportunistic giving, here’s a really cool exercise for making the most of your gifts and interests. I look forward to giving this a try.

Anger Makes You Vulnerable to Misinformation

Participants in the anger condition tended to be more confident in the accuracy of their memories. But among those participants, increased confidence was associated with decreased accuracy.”

Impact Highlight

Human trafficking in North America happens frequently in places like truck stops, restaurants, motels, rest stops, and other places where most visitors are there just temporarily. Hotlines see tens of thousands of cases each year, but many more cases go unreported.

One group uniquely positioned to spot and report trafficking are truck drivers. Truckers Against Trafficking trains truckers on how to spot, report, and prevent trafficking using best practices. Their efforts increased the number of hotline calls by truckers from 3 to almost 3,000. Over 1 million truckers, bus drivers, and other transportation workers have now been trained.
truckers-against-trafficking

Promotional Stuff

If you want to improve yourself and could choose only one trait to begin, you should start with humility. It's called the "mother of all virtues" because it opens the door to all kinds of personal development. But humility is also sorely misunderstood. It isn't just an internal attitude about ourselves, but an outward set of behaviors that people can observe. It's also essential to effective leadership.

This is the last episode of the How to Help Podcast—Season 1, and it’s excellent (if I may say so myself). My good friend, Prof. Brad Owens, is an expert in humility. He's done award-winning research on humility in leaders and has shown that leadership humility is key to getting better engagement, more creativity, and higher functioning teams. Prof. Owens talks about the specific ingredients of humility that you can practice and encourage in others.

How to Help Podcast • Humility • Prof. Brad Owens

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