A friend of mine (I’ll call her Diana) is upset. She has another friend (I’ll call her Mary) who has financial problems, and that concerns Diana. She is a very loving and kind person and naturally she wants to help Mary any way she can.
It so happens that the relationship between the two women has been strained for a while. The reason is unknown to me. I only know what Diana tells me and she seems perplexed, or better said, she is puzzled about the reason. As far as she knows she has always been a loving and giving friend to Mary.
Mary no longer has a cell phone and cannot afford one.
Diana has two phones, with two different telephone numbers and she only needs one.
So what does Diana do? You guessed it. She sends Mary her second phone, which should save her from all the inconveniences that come with not owning a cell phone. A kind and loving thing to do, isn’t it? And how lucky for Mary to have such a good and thoughtful friend.
Because as it turns out, Mary doesn’t want Diana's phone. She isn’t grateful for the gift. She doesn’t rush to thank her friend for her generosity.
Instead, she refuses the package without an explanation.
And Diana gets her feelings hurt. Very hurt. After all she only wanted to help…
And she gets even more puzzled and perplexed. But being a good and kind person she "doesn’t get angry with Mary." She simply hopes to understand the reason one day.
And what about you?
What are you feeling right now, as you are reading this story?
I hope you are rolling your eyes and shaking your head and also – getting angry.
Not with Mary. With Diana. That’s right. With the sweet and innocent and loving Diana for rushing in to rescue her friend, for rushing in where she wasn’t wanted, doing what she wasn't asked to do, and thus exposing herself for slaughter. (Bear with me, please, I promise I will explain.)
And if you are not angry with Diana, then I hope you are at the very least exasperated with her.
Exasperated for what?
For her refusal to respect her friend’s desire to be left alone.
For imposing “help” on someone who clearly doesn’t want it and has shown this to her in so many ways already.
For not respecting Mary’s right to make her own mistakes, which in this case is - to fail financially.
For not giving her space to get back on her feet when she is ready to do so and not on Diana’s schedule.
For being intrusive and invading, (because that’s what we are when we believe we know best what the other person needs.)
For trying to “rescue” her friend, which is an arrogant thing to do. ( I will explain this as well. Please, keep on reading.)
In short – for not treating her as an adult that she is.
This kind of “giving” lacks respect. And people don’t respond to it kindly.
They want you to back off. Even if they accept your help, don’t expect them to be grateful for it. More often than not you will end up feeling “unappreciated and misunderstood” in spite of all your good intentions. (And don’t get me started on “good intentions,” please, the ones that pave the road to hell…)
So what to do? Become cold and heartless and stop helping people?
Of course not. Just do it differently, that’s all.
Next time you want to help someone in trouble, be very careful how you go about it.
Ask them if they’d like your help, but ask gently, tactfully. Neutrally. Don’t be emotionally invested in their saying yes. Offer your help, if that’s what you want to do, but offer it once. Let them know you are there for them and then – let go.
Remember: helping people is very different from saving them.
Honor the ones you want to help by not imposing yourself upon them. Respect their dignity. Give them space. Stand by, be available, but do not rush in. Be sensitive to their state of mind. People who are in trouble are often very fragile. Whatever their emotional state, if they feel your desire to "save" them, they will not let you in.
You can care about them very much, you can be genuinely ready to help them, but you can't have an agenda of "I have to save you because you are obviously incapable of saving yourself."
You HAVE TO BE neutral.
Neutral means: "if you accept my help I will be happy to give it to you, and if you don't, it's really no problem at all." That kind of neutral.
Otherwise you have an additional agenda. And, like it or not, the agenda to save someone always says the same thing.
It says, subtly or not so subtly “Let me take care of you because look at you, you are a mess. You are obviously less than I am.”
Compare this to: “I’ll be there when you need me.” Or “I am always there for you.”
Feels different, doesn’t it? Because it is. Fundamentally different.
And everyone who is being “saved” feels this difference in their gut.
When people are made to feel “less than you,” they feel devalued. And the response to being devalued is rage.
Why would they feel devalued by you?
Because you’ve just treated them as if they are unable to help themselves.
This rage, often bottomless, accumulated over the years and for the most part having nothing to do with you, lies so close to the surface that it can spill over at any moment. And your “kind gesture” may well be the last straw.
You don’t want to expose yourself to that rage. It won’t be pretty. This is what I mean when I say in The Power of the Possible that “rescuers get slaughtered.”
(A Lazaris's quote that has gotten so much attention and brought up so many questions. By the way, a good friend of mine read The Power of The Possible and went and got this quote tatooted onto her arm! )
Here you are, just “innocently” trying to help… and they “slaughter” you with their inexplicable rage! Which is exactly what Mary did to Diana by shutting her out, hurting her feelings and withdrawing her friendship without an explanation.
You see, rage isn’t always loud and in your face. It can be silent and condensed and still cut you deeply. Withdrawal is a very sharp tool. And when it penetrates, you bleed.
And now Diana tells me she wants to understand Mary’s behavior.
When she’d asked me the first time and I began to explain, she cut me short. She had asked me, but she didn’t want to hear it, telling me instead that she hoped to understand Mary one day, ending the discussion there and then. I let it go of course.
When she asked me the second time I decided to write this blog.
I could’ve rushed in and tried to save Diana from repeating the same mistake in the future. I could’ve insisted she listens to me and “gets it... .”
But I’ve learned to trust myself. I trust my gut, and the gut doesn’t lie. My gut told me clearly: “Not yet. She is asking you, but she doesn’t want to hear it.”
And I let it go again. Because I respect Diana’s right to learn her lesson on her own timing, and not on mine.
Here is what I know beyond all doubt:
We learn our lessons when we are ready and not a minute before.
Each lesson is repeated until it is learned. We can’t really miss it.
That’s the beauty of it.
Who are we to decide at what speed another human being should grow and change?
The Universe in its benevolence never gets frustrated. (Though we do.)
The Universe in its ultimate patience always waits, and then presents us with another chance to learn the same lesson.
They come again and again.
Until we’ve had enough.
And when we are ready even the stones speak. When we are ready, the learning can come from anywhere.
It took me a long time to learn this particular lesson.
And when I did, I felt it was so important that it became the premise for the entire book.
As for Diana, right now Mary is her teacher. She is teaching Diana something very powerful. Whether she’ll learn it now or not is totally up to Diana. Her choice. But sooner or later she will.
And if you are like my friend Diana, still trying to help people who do not want your help, always ending up unappreciated and misunderstood, I hope this helps you as well.
May all of us be saved from unsolicited, uninvited “rescuers,” well-intentioned that they may be.
Send me your thoughts and share this with your friends and family and anyone you believe may benefit from this information. As long as you are not trying to save them.
Which means forward it, but don’t check if they “got it”.
Step back. Enjoy your life!