Yet I have learned the hard way and with much pain that despite my good intentions, trying to help someone in this way even when met with apparent appreciation usually results in nothing positive and at times anger or agitation. Sometimes a budding friendship has been halted. I thought I was listening but I really wasn’t. This has caused much frustration.
And so I learned a while ago that if you want to help someone, if you want to be truly thoughtful, one must instead listen deeply, which means listen free of your ego, free of your perceptions … a very difficult task. Because otherwise, you are really advising someone what they should do based on what you would do or would want to do in the situation. In that case, you aren’t really speaking to the person and so not surprisingly your words doesn’t work.
Complicating matters further, I recently learned of another force in this dynamic. When you offer someone advice, especially advice based on spirituality, it may be a light for the person but a light that he or she doesn’t want turned on. Even when the advice is requested.
Most people fear opening up recesses of their mind which have been closed off for years. As anyone who is walking the spiritual path knows, starting to explore one’s spirituality challenges almost everything that you ever believed in or thought. And it is usually unsettling before one gets to the point where you find peace.
So it really should have been a “duh!” moment when an intuitive told my partner recently that when he offers such spiritual advice to someone it scares them and pushes them away because they experience fear. As the saying goes, it’s not how to make friends and influence people.
The other thing I became aware of when meditating on this is that when someone talks about their suffering, it is a cry for help. But not help in the sense of advice. What people cry out for is simply respect, to be heard and understood, and to be treated with loving kindness. That is what most people miss in their lives and is at the root of their insecurity and suffering.
The well-known lessons of interactive listening are that advice is almost never welcomed or productive, even when sought. What one needs to do if one really wants to help and be compassionate is to just listen, not be judgmental, show empathy, be genuine, and show unconditional positive regard for the other person’s ability to solve their own problem. Help them talk through their problem and discover the answer. Then you will be giving someone what they seek … respect, being heard, and loving kindness.
As for making someone laugh, there is no question that humor is a great tonic when one is suffering. And since suffering is universal, so is the tonic of laughter. As I explained in my recent post, “What Is Joy? What Is Happiness?” joy in the spiritual sense is not some elation, some excitement. Joy and happiness is simply the absence of suffering, it is the experience of peace. What happens neurologically when we laugh is that for that moment the mind is drawn away from its suffering. It may be transitory, but it is a relief and thus nonetheless very welcomed.
But if you really want to offer someone joy and compassion, combine laughter with action to help them find a more permanent peace and happiness as suggested above.