The Limitations of Helping Others: How to Help Well

Our behavior influences others.

Posted Nov 29, 2018

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We humans are a giving species. Sayings such as “sharing is caring” and “it’s better to give than to receive,” reflect the values our society upholds. So when you embark on a path of improving your life and you experience amazing benefits, your impulse may be to share what you’ve learned with family and friends. 

 As a result of the time you’ve invested in improving yourself, you may be thinner, fitter, happier, or richer… there are probably as many self-improvement areas as strategies to manifest them. As eager you may be to have others benefit from the outcomes you’ve experienced, your efforts may actually generate the opposite of what you intended: They may be turned off and resist rather than embrace your message. 

We have many reasons why we’re inclined to want others to improve their lives as we have. At the top is a desire to help. Also, is a hope that others will join us on our growth journey. While growth is good for our well-being, it does come with consequence. And one of those downsides is that the people who have been in our lives, sometimes for decades, may not join us on our journey. As a result, we may have periods in our lives where we are alone, or we fill our lives with new like-minded people. 

This doesn’t mean we should avoid or give up on trying to influence family and friends. But you must do so without having any expectation. Otherwise, in the event your help is unwelcomed or unfollowed or both, you’ll risk feeling disappointed. To avoid disappointment, my recommendation is to take an “actions speak louder than words” approach. This subtle strategy has modeling behavior at its core. 

Imagine you recently embarked on a meditative practice. As a result, you find yourself calmer. Before, when you were behind the wheel, you’d instantly become upset when another driver cut you off. But not anymore. 

One day your spouse is a passenger sitting beside you. Someone in front of you aggressively cuts you off. So much so that your significant other yells at the driver from inside your car. Meanwhile, your indifferent reaction comes as a surprise. 

“Woah, I totally thought you were going to blow up,” your spouse says. 

You explain that careless drivers no longer upset you. Your significant other suddenly wants to know more about how you’ve changed and becomes curious about how you went about decreasing your road rage. Without telling your spouse, “you need to meditate,” you’ve aroused curiosity through modeling behavior. 

This example points to how we are all interconnected. Our behavior influences others. If we continue growing, we will see change within and around us. Now this doesn’t mean that every passenger in our car will be calmer and experience less road rage when they’re behind the wheel because they’ve witnessed how we’ve become calmer. 

But it does mean that as we change, our world around us will too. We don’t know what this will look like or how subtle or obvious it will be, but change is inevitable. And when we drop the need to expect a particular outcome from the changes we’re experiencing (such as that friends and family will change too), we are learning how to embrace life more and suffer less. 

“When I pull a blade of grass, the whole universe shakes.” I love that saying and remind myself of it often. It expresses our interconnectedness with others. In our growth journey, we may wish those we care about will embrace change too. We may at times feel isolated in our pursuit of happiness. But by understanding our interconnectedness, we learn to trust that everything happens for a reason and our lives will turn out beautifully. We accept that every person has his or her own growth trajectory. While we can influence others by modeling, in the end the only person we can guarantee to change is us. By truly understanding this, we learn to flow, accept and love the life unfolding before us.