Basket Cases

Yesterday while walking through my room, I knocked over a basket of odds and ends (as baskets tend to fill with). My first reflex was to try to catch it. I say try because my attempt to catch it actually knocked the basket further than it would have gone otherwise. Had I left it be, it would have fallen on its side and could have been tipped back into place with a minimum of trouble. Thanks to my ill-timed “help,” however, it pretty much scattered the contents. The basket would’ve been better off if I’d let it fall and then, tried to help.

For no reason that I can understand, my brain took this as a metaphor for life. There I am, picking up scattered junk, and I’m thinking: What if people are like that basket?

Think about it. We see someone falling, and our first instinct is to help, to steady, to support – to give them a push in the right direction. What if we’re actually making it worse for them by trying to stop them from falling? What if they would be better off if we let them fall and then, offered to help?

I’ve done a lot of falling in the past few years. Some major blows like multiple deaths in the family as well as some that are minor in comparison (career change and that sort of thing). While the major issues caused stress, the more minor issues were actually harder – partly because many people, my family in particular, did their best to help. They gave advice, expressed concern, offered money, etc.

They didn’t realize that their questions and tips added to a pressure that already had me on my knees. I was struggling, and the added pressure gave me more to struggle with and worry about. Worse, the sheer number and frequency of their concerns implied clearly that they were really worried. That in their minds, I needed their help.

In other words, they didn’t think I could fix it.

Maybe, that’s extreme or exaggerated, but that’s the impression I got out of it. You don’t have to tell me their concern means they care – I know. I do my best to remind myself every time I get annoyed or tired of the pressure. But that doesn’t change the impression their concern gave me or the damage it did. It undermined a confidence that barely had its nose above the water.

And I say nose deliberately. I was not doing well.

The people who actually helped me most at that point are the ones who listened. They didn’t jump in and try to help or question. They didn’t offer advice unless I asked for it, and even then, they spent more time asking questions about what I wanted or how I felt than they did expressing their own opinion. Instead, they believed.

In me.

Foolish, misguided, or not – they believed anyway. Because they did, I felt stronger and more capable. I knew if I needed them that they would be there, but I didn’t feel pressured.

It’s the difference between holding out a hand to help someone up and grabbing them and yanking them to their feet. When the offer is there without judgment or pressure, it shows a respect for the individual who’s down. It tells them that they’re still people, and they still have power to make decisions for their lives. Sometimes not helping is the best help you can give.

Wait and listen – don’t scatter the basket.

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