What Can I Help You With?
Asking for Help
I recently opened my iPhone and accidentally bumped the Siri button. Although she is generally trying to help me, Siri and I have a bit of a love/hate relationship. I even changed her voice and regional accent settings to a British dialect hoping I’d have more patience with her. So far, we are discovering that it is as easy to get annoyed with a dignified woman with a British accent as it was a pleasant-sounding American.
Be that as it may, the question that popped up on my phone’s screen in that moment was the usual, “What can I help you with?” I’ve seen this question launched multiple times before but for whatever reason this time the words seemed to beckon me to do some serious thinking.
I realized that this is the first question that I ask people who come into my office for their initial introductory meeting with me. I want to know why they are here, or at least why they think they are here. I want to know what help looks like to them, or at least how they might define the word in the context of their present pain. I want to know their goals, their questions, and their expectations. Most of all, I want to know how I can fit in to what they have decided to make themselves vulnerable enough to discover about themselves by making an appointment. “What can I help you with?” is a very profound question to hear and one that opens up an opportunity for the recipient to experience an invitation to courage, or a complete shutting down depending on how the question is delivered to them.
I shared with a class I was teaching recently that the whole purpose of the 12-step chronology was to lead us to service. When we who are in recovery walk through “step work” we encounter a number of subjects that seem very focused on ourselves, our past, our self-centered fear, and our own “inventory.”
Ultimately, by step twelve the objective is to be able to lift our eyes off of ourselves and move into a role of serving others, giving back, and taking a message of hope beyond our own story and circumstances to those around us who are hurting. Many would even say that it is in living out this twelfth step that we experience the true essence and lifestyle of sobriety that most keeps us on our path of recovery.
As we begin to engage the pain of others we become more than casual observers in their lives. We are now empathetic witnesses to their stories. When we ask with deep sincerity, “What can I help you with?” we are opening a door that for many has never been accessed. Those who have lived behind the curtain of their own shame or adopted a narrative of apathy from others which they recite to themselves daily drink up these words of compassionate listening like water in a desert. With great courage they may dare to honestly give us an answer back.