Tag Archives: behaviour with others


Why do we find it so hard to ask for help? I’ve pondered this question many a time, and not really come up with anything useful. Over the last few months, I’ve come up with a theory that might help, so here goes!

Once upon a time, (not that long ago in our history) we lived in communities where we all helped each other – that’s how we survived. We bartered our skills or strengths for those of other people, and between us we could do more, have a better chance of thriving. Although a generalisation, there is no doubt that cooperation, sharing of abilities, helping each other out, were vital to the development of human culture.

This allowed us to go beyond survival mode, to begin to differentiate between skills, and give some more value than others. This weakened the bargaining power of some and strengthened the bargaining power of others. For example, once everyone knew how to preserve and cook their food, it was no longer a valuable skill. On the other hand, someone who was great at developing useful tools would have a special talent to barter.

So those who had the valued skills didn’t have to ask for help – it was given to them in return for their skills. Only those who were seen as weaker would have to ask for help, and risk being refused or taken advantage of. And although we no longer live in those communities, we have absorbed into our culture the idea that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and leaves us vulnerable. If only we’d absorbed more thoroughly the other part of community living – that cooperation and helping each other out enables us all to thrive!!

So how do we counteract this underlying sense that asking for help shows weakness and makes us vulnerable? The most important thing is to collect evidence that the effect of asking for help is different from that.

If you think of when others have asked you for help, you will notice that, in most instances, it is a pleasure to do so. It feels good to be able to give someone a hand, whether that be just because it’s easier if two of you do it – carrying something heavy – or because it’s something you are good at, and they’re using your skill – checking spelling and grammar in an important document.

And if you think of times when you have asked for help, haven’t people responded positively most of the time?

When we do have negative reactions, either in ourselves or from others, it tends to be for one of two reasons: it feels like a power play, or it feels like someone is taking advantage.

The power play is someone refusing to help or putting major conditions on their help. This does make you feel weak and put down. Taking advantage is when someone is always asking for your help, without ever offering something in return – we feel used.

Now those of us who find it hard to ask for help are never going to come in the latter category! The last thing we’re going to do is to expect constant help in an unbalanced way. We may occasionally come across someone who tries the power play game, in which case we need to ask someone else!

Most of us will be good at offering help, being generous with our time and talents. Let’s not be superman or superwoman though. Then we’re the ones making others feel weak! Asking others for help shows that we also sometimes can’t do it all on our own, it makes us human. And it makes those around us feel valued for what they have to offer. It is that essential trait of human beings, their ability to cooperate and help each other out.

So start collecting your evidence that asking for help generally has a good effect on all concerned. And don’t struggle on, being independent – we all do so much better when we ‘re being interdependent, when we work together.


I was re-reading the story of Winnie-the-Pooh deciding to go and see all his friends. When Piglet said that they should have a reason for going, he said, “We’ll go to wish them a Happy Thursday.”

So often we wait till we have a reason to make contact with our friends, some news to tell them or something to ask them. And these are good reasons to make contact, so long as we are clear in our intention. I certainly phone people I’m close to to give them a ‘progress report’ or ask for theirs, or to ask a favour, or respond to their call.

And we all have that moment, from time to time, when someone comes into our mind from out of the blue, and I believe it is a prompt from the universe to say hello again to them. In my experience, these are often the most delightful conversations because they have no agenda of any kind. When we ask them how they are, and what’s going on with them, it is because our only intention is to re-join with their world and show our interest and affection – it is not the polite preamble to what we really phoned them for.

By taking notice of this fleeting remembrance of someone, we extend our repertoire of reasons for phoning to include perhaps the most important one of all – I was thinking about you with affection.

So who might you call, just to say Happy Monday?


There are some things I’m really good at, and lots of areas where I still have a lot to learn. This week, I’ve been reminded that we all have a different range of expertise and that we can use that to enhance our own awareness. Giving away your own expertise is a lovey gift to give.

This doesn’t mean using it in a one-upmanship way, where we impose it on others to impress them. It means working out what aspects of your expertise might be useful and relevant to someone, and how to offer it in a way that helps them.

I had examples of both approaches at a gardening show last weekend. One exhibitor had a plant I didn’t recognise. I asked her what it was and she said ixia. I was no wiser, and asked her how to care for it. She told me it needed full sun and good drainage, and you could almost hear her unspoken words – ‘but you have to know what you’re doing and be a specialist like me.’

At the other extreme was a man selling alstroemeria plants. I said that I already had some of a different colour and asked him if these spread in the same way. He said that his variety clumped up, and then told me how to ensure that they ‘took’ when planted out, how to make the plant strong, even how to pick the flowers so the plant produced more. He shared his expertise so that I would be able to care for the plant better and have the best chance of enjoying its beauty.

We are taught that ‘ knowledge is power’. This implies that you need to hold on to it to be powerful. Yet the real power comes when you can use your knowledge to make a difference in someone else’s life as well. Give away what you know about, and paradoxically, you lose nothing – you still have all that knowledge. In fact, you gain, because someone else appreciates the gift you have given them, and that knowledge is now being used even more in the world.


I’d just picked up the paper and pen to write my blog when my cat, Smokey, came in. He looked at me and my occupied hands and knees, and then leapt up anyway, draping himself over the paper and pushing his head against the hand holding the pen. I gave in and cuddled him instead for five minutes!

Both my cats do this. They are very insistent when they want a cuddle, and obviously consider it to be far more important than anything else I’m doing. And I usually give in to their demand for two reasons.

Firstly, I like the reminder that it’s important to have some affection shown to you – more important than most other things. And I admire their clarity about seeing it as a right to ask for that when they feel they need it. Most of us have that feeling of needing some affection from time to time, but as grown-ups we’re less likely to voice it clearly.

Children know that hugs and cuddles make everything feel better, but we learn to stop asking for it – just that once or twice when we’re told it’s not the right moment, or to be a big girl or boy is enough to inhibit us. And hoping someone might realise what we want is not very productive – most of us can’t mind-read the needs of those we love.

The second reason I give in to the cats is that giving them a cuddle makes me feel good as well – in fact, sometimes I do wonder if they are doing it for me rather than just for themselves. I get the warmth of their body, the soothing effect of their purring, the reminder that affection is a silent and powerful exchange.

Wouldn’t it be great if we just stopped sometimes, in the middle of all our doing, and asked for a hug or a cuddle! We’d all benefit from that, wouldn’t we?


Those who know me will know that I’m not much into Christmas – it’s surely not my favourite time of year. Yet each time it comes around, I appreciate the reminder that Christmas – and maybe life in general – is not really about presents and food – it’s to celebrate the birth of Jesus. And that story is a story about miracles, angels appearing, kings and shepherds being equally welcome, compassion, and love.

Whether we believe it or not, it is a story of the potential we have as humans, and calls out to us each time, to live up to our potential. It’s not difficult to be compassionate, to treat everyone equally, to love others – it comes naturally to us. And if we choose to, we can notice the ‘miracles’ in our world, the synchronicities and coincidences, the gentle touch of angels, and the fundamental call and support to the best in ourselves.

This Christmas, let’s remember that love comes first, that miracles can happen, that there is more to being human than the news would suggest.

May your Christmas be joyous and loving!


This is the time of year when we make contact with people we may not communicate with at any other time. It may seem strange, to write a note wishing someone a happy Christmas when you haven’t spoken to them all year, but I think it’s important. We don’t know how our friendships may develop or shrink over time. We all change, and sometimes our friends are on similar paths, and sometimes we move away from each other. Yet over the years, those patterns change again, and some come closer again.

Relationships with others are one of the bedrocks of being human – we don’t survive or thrive without contact with other people. I like the fact that I have people in all the different phases of friendship with me, and that they are not static.

I think of it as being a set of concentric circles. The inner circle is those to whom I am closest, and the circles spread out to those with whom I have only occasional or casual contact. Over the years, the composition of those circles changes, but all those people have played a part in my life, and have contributed to its richness.

I like to remember and appreciate that, at least once a year. And sometimes someone comes closer again and brings more of the richness – what a delight!

It only takes a few moments to say hello to someone again and to express your appreciation for them being in you life. Don’t lose relationships because you can’t be bothered – they matter!


Sometimes we forget something that we all know in our hearts – that love is the most powerful, all-pervasive feeling in our universe.

We don’t generally talk much about love; we keep it down at a smaller level: like, quite fond of, pretty good. It’s almost as if we are wary of the bigness of it, protecting ourselves from having such a strong emotion, perceiving it as a bit risky to open ourselves up that much.

And that’s understandable. Loving is often a place of vulnerability; if we open our hearts for love, we are also open for hurt or rejection, or sadness. And yet if we keep our hearts closed, we miss the joy, the passion, the power of loving – and these are what feed our soul.

They are also the emotions that keep us physically healthy. Science has shown that positive emotions create chemicals in our bodies that boost our immune system, keep our organs healthy, and help us to fight off illness.

In my experience the positives of love far outweigh the risks. Our hearts can recover from heartbreak, but they wither when kept closed.

And we can practise lots of our loving without any fear of rejection. Nature never says no thank you to love and thrives on loving attention. A delicious meal, a wonderful perfume, a warm fluffy sweater, a beautiful piece of art, an inspiring piece of music – let’s love them rather than limiting them to quite nice, and feed our souls with that feeling. When we do, the world seems brighter, more benevolent, prejudices are overcome, fear is dissipated.

And maybe we can then love other people in the same way – not as a tit for tat kind of thing: ‘I’ll love you some, if you show you love me some’ – but just because they are fellow human beings. They will have the free gift of our loving warmth towards them, which they will feel even if they don’t know it. And we will have big warm hearts because giving love feeds us too.


Most of us no longer live and work in real communities, where we know most people we encounter. We are often in close proximity to strangers, in shops, and buses and streets. So we have learnt to close ourselves off from others, to march along in our own bubbles of protection, increased these days by constant use of mobile phones/handsets with music etc.

This may be useful sometimes – when we are in a hurry, when we’re feeling irritable. A lot of the time, it means we lose out. We miss the beautiful flower in perfect bloom, the lovely architecture in a quiet corner. We miss the smile or brief greeting from people we pass. We miss the chance encounter with someone who asks us for directions or comments on the weather, and maybe has more of a conversation with us, if we are open.

None of these things take anything away from us – they all add a little extra pleasure to our day. And they cost us nothing but a few moments of our time.

It is easy to say this, sitting in a courtyard in Provence, on holiday, with lots of people passing by, so plenty of time and opportunity to practice! And sometimes we all need to close down for a while.

And sometimes, being open to the world around us will significantly enhance our day – just for a while..


In our culture, prejudice has become a dirty word, suggesting that we are not ‘politically correct’, and that we are prejudiced for superficial reasons. Yet we do all have prejudices – we couldn’t manage without them.

A prejudice is simply a pre-formed assumption we make about the person or situation ahead of us, which sets the tone for how we approach it. It is based partly on our cultural upbringing, and partly on our own previous experience

Without our prejudices, we would find life almost impossible, having to assess the situation at hand afresh every time. It would be as if all our memory and experience were erased after each action we took, and we had to build the story from scratch each time.

Our prejudices give us a starting point for any given situation, based on what we already know. For example, we assume our friends want to spend time with us, care about what happens to us, and wish us well. So we look forward to seeing them or speaking with them, and expect sympathy if we have a problem and tell them about it. What these prejudices give us is a form of lens through which we view what happens: we notice all the evidence that these assumptions are true, and build our prejudices further.

So the question isn’t whether we have any prejudices; it is whether our prejudices are useful. For sure, being prejudiced towards expecting our friends to behave in certain ways is useful to us. Making the assumption that a meeting is bound to be difficult or boring may be less so!

Our prejudices are not set in stone, so we can choose to keep or discard the prejudices we have, and to create new ones that could serve us well, once we are aware of how they affect the way we see situations and people.

For me, a useful way to consider our prejudices is to distinguish between the ones we have for something and the ones we have against something. Many of those we have against something are not based on our experience primarily – they tend to be about things or people we don’t really know much about. On the other hand prejudices towards certain things tends to be based on our experience of it being useful to us.

An example would be how as children most of us are told not to speak to strangers. This may be a useful prejudice for a child – although possibly not to be applied to everyone they don’t know! – but as a grown-up the residue of this prejudice against strangers can be a real handicap. It would mean that we are wary of anyone we don’t know and approach interaction with them with some trepidation – that is a severe limitation on us as social animals. And of course, the alternative is to make the assumption that most strangers are good people who could be friends and will probably be helpful and pleasant – a much nicer way to be in the world!

A prejudice colours how we approach our everyday lives, so let’s make these colours bright and enjoy how that makes the world a brighter place. I find my prejudices are generally pretty useful to me – how about you?



In ‘The Book of Joy’ – conversations between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu – they describe empathy as just feeling for someone and compassion as taking the extra step and saying, ‘What can I do to help?’ I love this distinction because it clarifies something I was told a long time ago by some people who had physical disabilities: ‘We don’t want your pity, sympathy or even empathy – it doesn’t help us to be who we can be.’

I learnt by experimentation how to move from sympathy or empathy to compassion with them and got roundly told off if I got it wrong! I remember one young woman who wanted to go to the toilet. I took her there, and lifted her out of the wheelchair to sit her on the toilet, but she was quite heavy and I lost my grip on her. She slid down between the toilet and the wall of the cubicle. I was horrified, and kept saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ Dorcas looked at me and said, ‘Have another go and for goodness’ sake laugh – I must look very funny stuck in this position!’ Wow!! She showed me that I was not reacting as I would if she were my friend, but with pity for her predicament and guilt for my part in making it worse. I wasn’t allowing either her or me to be just humans.

Acting with compassion doesn’t have to be a big thing. You don’t have to volunteer to go into a war zone and help those injured, but you do have to remember that small things can help others and show our compassion with them as fellow human beings.

  • Listen when someone wants to tell you about something with your full attention
  • Freshen up the pillows of someone who is ill in bed and hold their hand
  • Help someone pick up their stuff if they’ve dropped their shopping bag
  • Remind the mum whose child is having a tantrum in the supermarket that it does get better as they get older, hopefully!
  • Have a conversation with the person who says good morning at the bus stop – don’t just look the other way
  • Hold the door open for that person behind you who is in a rush and looking agitated
  • And if you don’t know what to do that would help, ask the person concerned.

All these little acts of kindness and recognition add up to a lot of compassion, and moreover, they are infectious. If you take that small action, often others will do the same.

And don’t forget to show the same compassion for yourself. If you’re feeling miserable or irritated, or unhappy, or rushed, what can you do to help yourself? We can only be as compassionate with others as we are with ourselves, so start by helping yourself to be who you really are.