The question he asked is one we should all make a regular part of our conversations to build a better world.
When we see that others need help, it’s very typical for us to assist as we see fit, often without asking what they really need. However, by using four simple words, we can open a channel of communication that invites others to explain how they actually want and need to be helped.
I’d like to explain to you how I learned this lesson, through a personal anecdote that happened to me a few years ago.
Traveling with a baby
I was on a trip by airplane from Madrid to Barcelona route to attend my cousin’s priestly ordination. So far, so good.
I was flying with my young son, who was just a few months old. Then, things got complicated: my flight from Barajas Adolfo Suárez airport was delayed.
Suddenly, we were informed over the loudspeaker that there was a delay of about an hour and a half. The airline blamed it on technical problems with the aircraft.
At that moment, I thought to myself that I had to take this situation with a sense of humor, because my situation was quite comical: I was traveling with a baby, with all that that entails: stroller, bag, suitcase, bottle-feeding, etc. What was I going to do for 90 minutes wandering around the airport?
I decided to sit in a coffee shop and wait. Thank goodness my baby fell asleep, which made everything easier.
After a while, the airline finally announced that we could start boarding. However, to get down from the gate to the bus that would take us to the plane, we had to walk down a few steps. I was overwhelmed for a few moments.
Words I’ll never forget
Suddenly, in the midst of my chaos, I was approached by an elegant gentleman from Madrid—a gentleman who said to me, with a typical local accent, “How can I help?”
Just like that.
At first I was uncomfortable because he was a stranger. However, when I saw his good will to help, I asked him to assist me with the stroller my son was strapped in, while I carried my suitcase and the rest of the things.
He was traveling with his wife, but he was attentive to my needs the whole time.
Once on the plane, when the flight attendant picked up the stroller to take it to the luggage compartment, my “guardian angel” took my suitcase and helped me to place it in the overhead compartment. When I arrived at my destination, he didn’t forget me. He carried my suitcase again until he saw that I was settled. He didn’t leave me for a second. He even held my son while I opened the stroller.
Isn’t that delightful? What a treat when we meet people like that! Life becomes easier and the road becomes smoother.
Let’s make “How can I help?” our daily motto
How good it is when we ourselves are that person! Let’s add this phrase (and sincere intention) to our vocabulary and start saying to those around us, “How can I help?” Let’s abandon the phrases, “I would, but …” or “I’d help, if I weren’t so busy …”
Let’s be part of the change to create a more human and friendlier world.