What Do People Need?
Have you ever seen a houseplant communicate? In my home I have one plant that moves from perky to droopy in thirty minutes time. I think the plant waits until I have an armload of laundry to scream, “I NEED WATER!!!” The sagging leaves feel like an accusation of abandonment and neglect.
Ashamed, I rush to get water in the pot to make the plant and me happy again.
Recently I saw another plant, a ficus tree (pictured), “communicating” (screaming, actually) at the world: “MOVE ME!!! I’m living on the wrong side of the pole!”
If we look at the people around us, many times they communicate their own low-grade discouragement. Often the signs are subtle: hunched shoulders, vague complaints, or a general lack of enthusiasm in their voice. If you don’t pay attention, it’s easy to miss.
Do you notice the signals people are sending? If you’re wired like Iam, some days it’s tough to disengage from my own agenda long enough to notice if someone is thriving. But when I do, when I see them struggling to get to the sunlight, the bigger challenge is to figure out how I can help.
I’m no therapist, and, frankly, I talk too much to ever be an effective counselor, but that doesn’t give me a pass not to do what I can do. Most of the time, what I can do falls into three major buckets:
As basic as follow-up seems, if you sense that someone’s not doing well, move toward them! Isolation is a treacherous spot for people and even a single, positive interaction can change the trajectory of someone’s day. When you see someone dragging through the day, take the opportunity to engage.
After talking to someone, you might have a story that overlaps with theirs; if so, share what you know. You may have insights and know resources the other person doesn’t have, which doesn’t mean you have the answers, but you may have new starting points toward the answer. Regardless, don’t be selfish with your insights. This is another touchstone for assistance.
Finally, move the conversation along by offering a word of encouragement and inspiration. As the acclaimed writer V.S. Naipaul says, “Most people are not really free. They are confined by the niche in the world that they carve out for themselves. They limit themselves to fewer possibilities by the narrowness of their vision.” In other words, people often lack vision for what could be and, by doing so, are unnecessarily limited.
Of course, none of us can solve everyone’s problems, but you shouldn’t discount yourself from being an instrument of good in someone’s life.
Sometimes people just need better access to sunlight, and you can help move them away from the pole.