I was a very eager young man and missionary that used to repeat this phrase a great deal. Recently, though, I’ve grown to hate it as I’ve tried to put my finger on why and this is what I’ve come up with.
-Its inherently passive. As a missionary I thought I was being very helpful when I asked this. I even asked our dinner hosts if I could help clear the dishes. But then I had a companion that just did it. The people never said no or stop it, they said thank you. The point to me was that initiative matters in service. People don’t want to be a burden, even when they could use some help there is always a bit of reticence in asking for it. Asking this is a way to seem like you are being helpful in what could be seen as the laziest way possible. Again, I don’t doubt the questioner’s sincerity, but the approach and effect is lacking.
-I understand not wanting to be overbearing and that would make people ask how they can help instead of just helping. The difference between showing imitative in helping and being overbearing is a fine one. One of my greatest fears is that I am coming on too strong. But those with social skills can recognize the difference. It’s not overbearing to give sincere and targeted invitation that is more specific than anything I can do to help. Something along the lines of, “why don’t your kids come over for a play date this afternoon”, could do a great deal for a struggling single parent. Or maybe delicately asking, “do you mind if we make you dinner this weekend.” Thats a way to not be overbearing but be far more specific and helpful than the passive, “is there anything I can do to help.”
– I also hate the phrase because it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what I need in my life. I have said stuff at church activities like, “I’m a sucker for free food.” “I love playing table top games.” As a result, I show up to the activities in the ward that offer free food or a game night. (Though please don’t make me play Apples to Apples. It is the Taylor Swift of games, where you think it’s okay the first time but then you hear it another thousand times and you feel like poking your ear drums out with a pencil.) A little thoughtful reflection on how to help me might include inviting me to dinner, or hosting a game night. With a little more thought and access to social media they might realize that I’m open to having hang out friends, I work from home and often get cabin fever so by 5pm every work day I would accept just about any invitation. I’m a single parent so play dates are often hard to arrange as the literal odd man out. (Married women get really weird around a single male so despite having a really awesome daughter she gets shut out of many social engagements.) But instead of showing initiative with one of those items, I still get asked if there is anything they can do.
-I’m also a bit annoyed with the phrase because at least on two occasions, I have been very clear in what I needed and nobody helped. Example 1. I had a person in the Elder’s Quorum visit, (unannounced, which is a complaint for another day.) He gave me the key question and I actually answered. I had a tree in the front yard with numerous dead branches and leaves and I needed some pruning advice before the HOA got on my case. (Which is also another rant for another day.) Not only did I tell him about it, but he walked past it on the way in and out of my house. He was going to talk to somebody in the ward about it and have them contact me. It never happened. I eventually did it on my own. The pruning job wasn’t pretty, but a year later the tree has grown back nicely so I guess I did it right.
-Example 2. About a year ago I had an emergency appendectomy. It started at dinner, where it was tough to describe but I had severe pain on both sides of my body, and my stomach felt “tight.” I didn’t feel like eating, any pressure on my stomach hurt, and I couldn’t sleep from the pain. By 1 am I couldn’t sleep anyway so I figured at the very least the emergency room could give me some (very expensive) painkillers. I’m glad I went, as I found out it was an infected appendix, but hadn’t burst yet. They put me on morphine, called an ambulance, took me to their surgical hospital (and the trip cost more than my last trip to London, damn our medical system is pricey), they put me on diladud (the same stuff my ex got when she gave birth), and I was off into a sea of anesthesia and post op recovery.
I made sure to post online in the ward’s webpage. I don’t have any family living in town, as I moved to Las Vegas just to be closer to my daughter. Nobody from the ward visited, nobody even gave me a ride home. Because it was a Wednesday, which is our exchange day, and I guess because I looked pathetic in those hospital scrubs, my ex gave me a ride home from the hospital and dropped my daughter off at the same time. I had trouble walking, my jeans rubbed against my oozing scars so I could barely move, and I could barely stand up straight from the pain in my abdomen…but Wednesday was my shopping day which meant I had no food, and I still needed to pick up my pain medication. I posted an update on the thread asking for help like a medicine run…and got crickets.
I staggered around Walmart like I was in the Walking Dead. My shopping cart acted like a good walker, and somehow, despite being pretty woozy and in pain, I finished all of my grocery shopping. (I was also dating somebody at the time, and had to cancel a date to watch Rick Springfield on Fremont Street. I strongly implied that I would love her forever if she brought me some food, and her response was “I can’t I’m having a bad day.” Well la de freaking da, don’t let THE HOLES IN MY STOMACH interrupt your bad day. If my lifesaving emergency surgery didn’t earn a little tlc from a supposed romantic interest, I can’t imagine how selfish and needy she would have been as my wife. Needless to say that ended the relationship for me.)
I couldn’t find the post, but Hawkgirl wrote a post where she described how many men are out of the compassion or empathy network. I can’t help but think that if I was a relief society sister that just gave birth, I would have been overflowing with offers to help and dinners made for me. I think that because I’ve seen it in my ward a great deal. But being a man or just the product of a neglectful support system, I felt ignored in my time of greatest need, despite everybody falling over themselves asking how they can help me.
I understand that people are busy, and that people don’t want to be overbearing. They have lives and I’m not the center of theirs. I’m not asking for a parade either. But I asked for help, really needed it, and I tend to think that people who are so eager to constantly offer it, might actually do it when I ask. As a result of these two examples especially, when people enthusiastically offer to help, but then don’t when I ask for it, I tend to think they are full of crap. It seems like empty charity theater to me.
So is there anything you can do for me? Yes, please stop asking me.