I’ve been pondering the word “help”. At first it seemed so simple, then it got way too complicated.

Helping is assisting. The perfect image definition is a man pushing a car to the gas station. You see this, you jump out of your car to help. He is using his hands, back, and legs to move the car down the block. You assist him with your hands, back, and legs. It’s double the effort, and the result is that it is easier to get the car to the gas station.

The difficulty shows up at the moment you decide to help. Let’s say you are old, with back problems. Maybe your “help” is standing in the road acting as traffic control. The pushing isn’t any easier, but perhaps it is safer. Worse yet, you decide that you can sit behind the wheel to steer. Now you have added weight to the push so actually it’s a little harder. Still it might be of some help.

Some of this occurs because the “help” offered is run through your personal filter. You decide what help you can manage, and it might not be the help that is desired. How much effort is used to determine the help that is desired by the individual? Some of us skip that step, due to some physical limitations. Too many of us assess the situation and provide the “help” that is more appropriate. We make an independent judgement.

I can imagine that in some cases that this might be the better “help”. Assisting a child in choosing healthy food to eat, or appropriate clothes to wear. We use our knowledge and experience to counter the child’s questionable decisions. Our “helping” takes a radical turn to a condition of “controlling”.

With adults it is much more complex. We know that helping by taking over is not very respectful, but we then offer help that is very conditional. We should probably use another word at that point, because “conditional help” is rarely help.

Probably the most confusing is using expertise in the process of helping. The person wants your strong back and legs, but you have a degree in engineering, and you offer a series of rope and pulleys. Your help isn’t appreciated because it isn’t understood, and they can’t help with your helping. Whoops, this is where it gets complicated.

How often does asking for help means someone else must take control? I have a heart attack, I need help. What I really need is for someone else to knock me out, open my chest and rearrange some arteries. Again, this probably needs another word than “help”.

Lastly, we often see a “Help Desk” in education or technology. What type of help is that? It is assisting? Or is it, “I am lost, I don’t know what I’m doing, please please make sense of my life!”

My pondering has left me with the conclusion that I rarely need the “come along beside me assistance.” Mostly I need, “I don’t know what I’m doing. Help!”

Next time someone asks for help, find out which help is desired.