In an age where motives may be questioned, attitudes may be suspect and actions may be misinterpreted, it seems that the four words, “Can I help you” are probably seldom heard. As I reflect on them, I find that they are probably the most powerful words that anyone can utter to another person.
For the grammarians and detail-obsessed, if you are inclined to wonder if I meant, “May I help you,” I did not. While “may” requests permission, my usage of “can” is another way of asking, “Is there any area where I may be able to assist you?”
Your first reaction to my statement may be that either the words are rarely issued, or they usually have secondary motives. But I’ve spent considerable time thinking about help. When is it the most valuable and to whom are the questions most appropriately asked?
My experience suggests that many people are reluctant to ask for help, whether out of concern for their images or because they simply don’t know how to ask. In response to that trait, I humbly offer an alternative.
If and when you need help on a task or a thought, large or small, ask for help from someone you trust. While many people in your vicinity may be eager to offer opinion, conjecture or suggestion, very often that offer is misguided or self-serving. Instead, be judicious in your choice and ask for assistance.
By doing so, you accomplish two important deeds. Your comrade, friend, confidante is enriched by the effort you have made to enlist their involvement. And clearly, you will be the recipient of information or action that is dedicated specifically to your needs.
If in the future, you can reciprocate, both parties benefit. And if there had been any question about the willingness to put forth effort on behalf of the other person, that potential reluctance is dispelled. You are available to help another while that other is amenable to helping you.
From my standpoint, someone asking me to assist is a compliment and an invitation for me to contribute something positive, to them and to the world around me. You will probably find that others share that feeling – when you ask something of them, you give them something that has meaning. If all that weren’t wonderful enough, a new and fresh insight may be the key to solving something previously insoluble. Shalom.