By Sondra Whitt
We probably all have people in our lives that we’d like to help — either because we love them or, if we don’t even know them, just because we have a sense of wanting to help alleviate suffering in another human being. I learned a long time ago that I can’t help anyone who doesn’t want it. No matter how self-destructive their behavior, people have to choose to face the truth about themselves, choose to seek the help they need and then choose to do the hard work of change. However, there is a key to helping others.
The key to helping someone else is to help ourselves. The more I work on my own self-development, the more prepared I’ll be to help someone else. If I read and learn, growing in wisdom and understanding, then I’ll be able to offer sound advice when someone asks me for it. If I practice self-discipline, I can share those strategies with others. If I create a successful and happy life, I can serve as an example or inspiration to others. If I become an expert in any given area, I’ll become a valuable resource to them. It’s like when we fly somewhere in an airplane; part of the take-off routine is when the flight attendant gives us instructions about the oxygen masks that drop down in the event the cabin loses pressure. We’re told to first secure our own mask and then to help our child secure theirs. If we try to help the child first, we could lose consciousness from lack of oxygen and then we’d both be in trouble.
Self-development can be daunting if we look at how far we are from where we want to be. There’s a woman in my Weight Watcher group who probably weighs around 400 pounds and is about five feet, three inches tall, if that. She’s a long ways from her goal weight and it will take her a long time to reach it. But she comes to every meeting, is following the program, and has lost some weight — maybe not a lot every week, but it’s been fairly consistent. She’s an inspiration and an example of perseverance to the rest of us. I’m quite a ways from my goal weight, too, but the same slow-and-steady steps will take both of us where we want to be.
Several years ago Jim gave me a hammered dulcimer for Christmas. We visited the music store where he bought it and the owner asked how I was doing. I told him it was pretty slow but that I could play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. He said, “All it takes is practicing 15 minutes a day. That’s 15 minutes a day, every day, not two hours on Saturday. And everyone starts with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” I learned recently that if we improve in any area just three-tenths of one percent a day, every day, at the end of a year we’ll have improved one hundred percent. We start out improving on day one by .003 percent, when we do the same thing on day two, then we’ve improved .006 percent, day three we’ve improved .009 percent and so on. At the end of the year we’ll be twice what we are now — twice as healthy, twice as knowledgeable, twice as wealthy, twice as able to help someone else. Just like spending 15 minutes a day practicing the dulcimer, playing the simplest song — it’s slow, it takes consistency, and it starts with the basics. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the dulcimer, a foreign language, healthy living, relationships, or developing a skill — the same principles apply.
If we apply those principles to whatever we want to accomplish, we’ll be more valuable to everyone around us — our children, spouse, friends, co-workers, customers, even strangers — and especially ourselves. Then, when someone wants or needs our help, we’ll be ready.