Helpless, Helpful, Help Me…

To “help” means to assist someone in moving in a particular direction or to serve someone food or drink, so perhaps it is not reasonable to expect someone to respond in a helpful way if the help we are asking for does not fall into one of those categories. Over time the word “help” has come to connote much more the concepts of aiding, responding, listening and accomplishing. Right now at the bottom of the page on which I type is a small window with the query, “How can we help?” Well, you can neither assist me up, down or sideways, nor are you going to bring me a snack so it looks like you can’t help me at all. The better question would be, “do you have a question related to the operation of this website? We might be able to answer it.” That more appropriately sets my expectations for what I am going to get out of this interaction.

Most of us know that even if we ask for help, either in the literal meaning or in the modern usage of the word, we aren’t always going to get what we want. I could say something about the Rolling Stones here but that is probably not necessary. And a lot of emotional stuff gets wrapped up in either the asking or the receiving or the not receiving and it is complicated. Today though I am thinking about asking for help from people who though it is their job to respond either won’t, can’t or just don’t care. And a lot of emotional stuff gets wrapped up in that too!

How many contracts, agreements, and user licenses are you a party to at this very moment? How powerful do you feel in those relationships? If you want to use iTunes and you want to negotiate part of the service agreement how likely do you think it is that you will be quickly routed to someone in Apple legal to chat about your concerns? Not going to happen. You want the goods you sign the agreement, and if they change the agreement you sign that too, and if they change it a hundred times you sign every single one and you never get to negotiate because ostensibly you have a choice and could get your whatever it is somewhere else.

We pretty much all hate our cell phone carriers. Some of us hate them a little less than others, but I have never heard anyone say, “golly they are just great in every possible way, I wouldn’t change a thing.” I was a loyal customer to AT&T for many years. I have not always loved the somewhat spotty reception I get but I would say to people, “it’s okay because they are incredibly helpful, whenever I need something they respond.” And I stayed with them for that reason. Every two years (or so) when it was time for the new phone I would wait until my contract made me “eligible” for the discount, I would purchase the new phone, renew the contract and happily keep having spotty coverage. The system worked the same every time: wait for eligibility, purchase phone, extend contract. You only changed your contract if you affirmatively made the choice to do so. This time it was different, except it was exactly the same. I waited for “eligibility,” clicked the upgrade button, selected my phone, clicked the “yes” button and voila within a few days my new phone arrived. Then I got the bill and I got on the phone and it turns out that not only can they not help me they aren’t really even interested in helping me because really I should have read the however many pages of micro-type that said the whole program was now different even though it acted exactly the same and no matter what I did if I bought a phone through AT&T I would be paying $25 a month more.

I felt snookered, and powerless, and helpless because I was stuck and there was no one there who would assist me to move in the direction I wanted to go. Also, all three of the people I interacted with were rude totally independent of their ability to give me what I wanted so it felt like I was being kicked while down. The interesting thing of course was that this feeling of helplessness with AT&T stirred up all the other emotional stuff that comes from asking for something we want, or need, and then not getting it. That happens a lot, to all of us, which is part of why all of our interactions are so important, and how we offer ourselves to each other is so important. Don’t offer to help if you are not going to, if you can’t, don’t tell me that I am an important part of the equation if I am not. Be honest about what you are offering, and of course be a lot more obvious, then at least we all feel like we are choosing something not being cheated. Don’t offer me help Mr. Big Company, because that is what we all want and we can’t always get that; I did try real hard though and what I got was some perspective on relationships, so maybe that was what I needed. Also I learned that just as soon as I can I will be shopping for a new cell provider because that’s what happens when you stop trusting someone who offers to help and then doesn’t.

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