The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Nine years ago, I moved from the quiet little village of Helmdon, England, to live in the city of Hamilton in Canada with my girlfriend. Moving country meant saying goodbye to my family in England. I had no idea then that I would only see my father on fourteen more days between then and the end of his life.
My relationship with my father was never easy. A great man but with the tragic problem of alcoholism, there was much suffering in our family. But some people are worth suffering for. And my mother and father were two such people.
I fought hard to battle my father’s alcoholism so we could still have a strong relationship with one another.
But when I left England for Canada, I am ashamed to say that I was glad I would no longer be suffering my father’s alcoholism.
I felt the same way right up until the morning of March the 9th.
7am the phone rang. I immediately felt a pang in my heart.
“Paul,” my mother said, “this is a phone call I prayed I would never have to make.”
My intuition told me the truth before she spoke it.
What hurt most about my father’s death was the sense of loneliness.
Everywhere I went, friends looked at me like they felt sorry for me. They said nothing. One time I was out for a drink when I chose to open up to them about my father’s death. They very quickly found an excuse to turn the other way.
Later I would ask why. They told me they were afraid of saying the wrong thing so they didn’t say anything at all.
How many times is this the case? How many times do people do nothing because they’re not sure of the right things to do?
You’re in a painful breakup. Your friends distance themselves from you because they don’t know what to say.
You lose your job. Your colleagues aren’t sure how to handle it. They keep quiet because they don’t know what to say.
You find out you have a health condition. Your friends and family don’t talk about it because they don’t know what to say.
What do you say?
It’s not easy. But what is worst is to say nothing at all.
Doing something is always better than doing nothing.
Here are five ways to help people in times of need.
- Be mindful of your own emotions first
We are highly empathetic people. Naturally, when we hear about someone’s suffering we empathetically feel some of that suffering ourselves. There can be physical symptoms of this. Increased heartrate, nausea, dizziness.
When helping someone with anxiety, we may experience anxiety ourselves. And this can compound the issue.
To help other people, we first need to control our own energy and our own feelings. We must be mindful of how we are feeling and take control. Them, our personal feelings will not interfere with our compassion and our kindness.
Try practicing meditation, yoga or tai chi before helping someone with an emotional issue.
By controlling our own minds, we are better able to help others.
- You’ve got a friend in me
One of the best ways to help someone who is depressed, or who is suffering in any way, is simply to remind them that we are they.
Here’s the secret: There never is a right thing to say in these situations. Say something. Something gentle. Something soothing.
Be the sound of rain on the window that says little yet reminds us that we are never alone in the world.
- Actually say “I don’t know what to say”
When we’re not sure what to say, a good choice is to actually tell the other person that we don’t know what to say.
Mindful communication means accurately and objectively stating how we are feeling. We don’t have to say anything intelligent or meaningful. Sometimes we just have to say, “I don’t know what to say. I just know I feel for you and that I will always be here for you”.
- Be a good listener
Ask any professional counsellor and they will tell you: most people just want to be around a good listener.
I’m a quiet, private person. I don’t always know how to say. But I am profoundly compassionate. And I always listen. 99% of the time that’s enough. Two ears can be worth a million words.
- Offer to actually do something
To truly help someone, offer to do something practical. Simple things are usually the best. Go grab the groceries for them, take their kids out, do the cooking for them….
The simple, kind act of offering to help someone is often enough to give them a little boost. Remember, you might not change the world, but you can change the world for one person.
We must never underestimate the difference we can make in another person’s life by simply being there.