What would you say to someone on the street corner that you see panhandling? Would you tell them to get a job? Would you hand them food? Would you stop to ask about them? What would you say when they hold up their sign for food saying anything helps, then you go get the food and they get angry because you didn’t give them money?
What would you say to a single mother who is trying to raise her kids as best as she can but her partner left her because things got too hard, or they may have died, or she might not even know who the daddy is of her children? Would you be critical or nonjudgmental? Would you even know how to approach the needs of the woman or man who is facing such a hardship?
What would you say to someone that you don’t think is living their life the way you think they should? Would you condemn them to hell if they don’t believe as you do? Would you offer an ear or just talk their ear off with what you want and believe? What would you say to someone who isn’t working and doesn’t seem to want to work? Would you criticize all of their quirks or would you try to help them by listening to what they want and if you can’t help them, would you try to point them in a direction of someone who can?
These are some really hard questions and I don’t expect you to answer them right away. The main idea is to make you think about what other people may be facing in their lives. Every day I pass by panhandlers. Sometimes I think that they are too lazy to work and then I catch myself. Do any of us really know how hard it is for the folks who do this? They stand at the street corner on full display to the world, letting them know that they are capable of work. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be standing there with signs. In a way, I see them a little differently than I used to. I used to think they were too lazy to get a job but when I see them looking extremely tired, sun-burnt, dirty, and broken, I know that it isn’t laziness. They are begging for help and not always for money. Some of them really just need a chance. We don’t see the dangers they face. Many of them have learned the streets more than we can imagine. That doesn’t make it right or wrong. It’s just reality. They are the forgotten. They are also some of the strongest individuals around. I’ve heard it said “if someone can survive being homeless and get back on their feet, then they can make it just about anywhere.” I’m not condoning or defending the homeless. I’m just saying that sometimes we all make judgements without knowing the facts.
I know lots of single mothers. Some of them have had the worst luck in the world with relationships. I heard some people say that they created this mess and they have to live with it. Well, I don’t consider children a mess. I consider situations a mess but not humans. We do messy things, we say dirty phrases and spew nasty remarks towards one another that do little for our self esteem except to shatter it in pieces. One of the questions I have for my friends who are struggling is what can we do to help? There is a woman at my church fighting for her life with a tough battle of cancer. She has three children. They are her world. The bills are astounding. While she needs financial assistance, she has other needs too. She needs to make sure that her kids know that they have a lot of support and love. A community of faith is constantly stepping up to help out.
What would you say to those who don’t want to talk to anyone? They just want to shut down. They want to wear their own cloak of invisibility and whether or not we as a society listen to them or not is on us. There are so many people existing in the world today that think they are invisible. That their voice doesn’t matter. That they are nobody worthwhile. What do you say to anyone you see drawing up in their shell thinking no one cares?
The truth is that none of us know what will come out of our mouths when we are presented with tough situations. It’s very easy to think we know the answers but we can prepare ourselves for dealing with intense situations. Sometimes it’s better if we just listen and be present. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to keep our opinion to ourselves. It’s even harder sometimes to zip it and just listen. We all make assumptions. Sometimes those assumptions are completely wrong. We think we know why things happen but we have no clue. We have to find ways to listen to others without forming a concrete opinion. I’m not saying don’t try to figure out ways to help. Just the opposite actually. What I am saying is don’t be a know it all. Really listen to the person. Watch their body language. Ask questions and find out about them.
Let others know that you care. Look, it’s really easy to say that you care about what someone is going through but sometimes a gentle touch of a calming moment can speak volumes. When I’ve been really stressed, I’ve had someone gently touch my shoulder or my arm and just let me know that I wasn’t alone. It really helped. Sometimes the simplest acts of kindness can have the greatest impact.
Empathy can be critical to helping someone who may not necessarily want your help. People have to be willing to accept help and they don’t need to feel threatened. What they do need is to know that not only are they not alone but they can depend on others. No one wants to go through a difficult journey alone and if you think that they do, then more than likely they feel they have no other choice. We all need one another.
Challenge that person to set limits for themselves. We’ve all heard that baby steps help getting through a really hard time or when trying something new. The same principal applies. You can’t literally move mountains but you can find ways to move the surroundings. Sometimes you have to climb those mountains one step at a time before you can really appreciate the view and the same thing applies to our lives. Problems are just like mountains. Some have great places for footing while others you have to figure out how to reach the next step.
Don’t allow someone else’s problems to become your issue. It’s great to help others out but not at the expense of your own health or sanity. Make sure you stay healthy in dealing with other’s problems. We can create our own health issues if we allow stress and depression to overtake us. Step away after talking with the person and use that time for you. It’s okay to charge your own batteries and regroup. In fact, it’s a necessity.
If you are talking to someone, remind them of the bigger picture. None of us know why we go through these things in life. We don’t know why things happen to people but we do know a lot of different people in our lives who have been through a lot. So when you think of what do you say to someone, think about these things. Think of what you would want someone to say or do if you were in a bad situation. Sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing and sometimes it’s just reassurance. Whatever you do say, I hope it’s nice. I truly hope that we all when presented with a difficult situation, can find a way to give hope rather than despair. What we say matters. What we do matters more.