Many years ago, Marist Poll posed an interesting question. If you could have the ability to fly, be invisible, time travel, teleport, or read minds, which would you choose?
Considering how much I travel, I think the obvious choice is teleportation. The majority of those surveyed, though, said they would want to know other people's thoughts. Given that communication is such an integral part of the human experience, the overwhelming desire to know what someone else is really thinking is telling.
The benefits of being a mind reader
You’ve probably been in a situation where you wished someone could read your mind. The frustration that comes with feeling you can’t effectively explain your point of view, emotions, or what you desire is very real. Regardless of who you’re interacting with, life would be far easier if what you want and need is obvious—without being forced to ask for help or offer an explanation.
In situations where I can use assistance, I sometimes find myself perversely rejecting any offers. This most often comes up when I’m traveling. Inevitably, I find myself struggling to get my luggage up and into the overhead compartment. Except, when a fellow traveler stops to give me a hand, I decline because I don’t want to be a burden. Then, when I settle into my seat and observe others huffing to stow their luggage, I have the audacity to muse that chivalry is dead.
The truth is, there are plenty of people in the world who find joy in helping. Ultimately, I believe the disconnect comes from asking permission to help.
See a need, fill a need
The most significant barrier to getting help can be finding the courage to ask. What if, instead of waiting to be asked, you saw someone in need of help and just… helped? Granted, this doesn’t apply to aiding strangers on planes, but many other relationships can benefit from this attitude.
Think about chores around the house. You notice the sink is full of dirty dishes and say, “Do you want me to wash those?” Your partner might first wonder if you’re making a joke. Obviously they’d like you to take care of the washing up. In fact, there are probably very few scenarios where they don’t want you to.
Posing such a ridiculous question begs another: Do you even really want to help? If you see dirty dishes, shouldn’t you just wash them? Why wait for permission? The same goes for when someone has cut themselves, complains of a headache, or says out loud that they’re hungry or thirsty.
In my experience, the conversations about whether or not someone wants help can take more effort than simply stepping in without saying a word. In the time spent discussing the situation, you could have done the dishes, retrieved a bandage, grabbed the headache medicine, or found a snack for that person.
Unfortunately, superpowers aren’t real, and no one can read minds. You can change how you respond to the world around you, though. If you see a need, fill the need. Simple, right?
The antagonist in me has to wonder, is this reasonable? Is expecting someone to know what you want before you ask realistic or fair? Can you really ask someone else to anticipate what you need?
In some cases, I think the answer is yes. In the workplace, certain positions are created to do just that. Support staff are hired for their ability to know what’s coming up and to be prepared. This doesn’t mean they don’t deserve grace when they miss the mark, but being a step ahead is an integral part of being an assistant.
While there's a clear place for anticipatory assistance at work, relationships in your home are entirely different. From my perspective, members of the same household are equally responsible for caring for the home and should pitch in with little prodding or explaining. But chores are such a small part of family dynamics.
Emotional assistance can be far more impactful than washing the dishes. In fact, letting someone in emotionally can motivate them to wash the dishes. Of course, this kind of work requires a great deal of vulnerability and fearlessness.
Revealing so much of yourself isn’t easy, but the outcome can be better relationships based on mutual respect and more satisfying partnerships.