If you have read any of my blog, you probably know that my life obsession is living my best, most fulfilling life and bringing that same kind of joy and fulfillment to others. I’m not always 100% focused on this purpose, and sometimes my own personality gets in the way.
I can be judgmental, harsh, have high expectations, and push too hard. Conversely, if I’m feel overly self-conscious about those things, I can be passive, permissive, and not be honest about my true thoughts or feelings.
Yesterday, I was rewatching the 3rd season of Queer Eye on Netflix.
In the episode with Joey—the summer camp project manager—he said something to the Fab 5 that struck me.
He said, “I thought I was gonna get a lot of finger wags and like, ‘oh my god, that guy is gross.’ I’m grateful that you met me where I was instead of trying to take me.”
Meet Me Where I Am
If you google “Meet me where I am”, one of the first results is a book about caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. The description reads: “Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease requires an abundance of knowledge, patience and love. There are many obstacles along the way to discourage and overwhelm even the most well rounded individuals.”
But isn’t that really a description of life? Truly living life requires knowledge, patience, and love. In life, there will be many obstacles along the way, and sometimes, even the most ambitious, zealous, well-rounded people become discouraged or overwhelmed. So many people fall into a rut.
But helping people isn’t so easy. Often, we don’t even know if a person is struggling.
One of my most favorite and also my most despised quotes comes from Henry David Thoreau.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
Many people have lived so long feeling unworthy, helpless, and exhausted that it has become a way of life for them. And what about those who do ask for help?
The honest truth is that sometimes, we try to help people by taking them along with us. We are quick to give advice and to get upset when the other doesn’t follow it. We make assumptions and offer advice even when the person hasn’t asked for it. How can we help unless we meet them where they are?
Here’s another quote I love by novelist and writer Brad Meltzer:
“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”
People will rarely ask of you, “Meet me where I am.” Take it upon yourself to meet people where they are.
How to meet people where they are:
Having conversations with people will reveal what a person needs, if you have the patience to truly observe. They might not tell you with words, but perhaps their body language shares something about how they’re really doing. Or maybe they boast about something (I’ve learned that often when people are bragging or boasting about something, it’s actually because they’re INSECURE and trying to convince THEMSELVES that it’s all good.) Understanding a person’s behavior can help you to reach them if they are in need of something.
Be aware of your preconceived ideas about culture, societal norms, and the “way things should be”
Even the most open-minded of us have structures within our brains that tell us how life is supposed to be. In most cases, these schemas’ foundations were built when we were too young to know better. (This is the idea behind the term “racial bias”. We’re not intentionally being racist, but even the most compassionate, loving people can have bias that prevents them from truly seeing past someone’s ethnicity or race.) For example, I believe that breastfeeding is best, and I harbor a tremendous amount of guilt about switching my first son to formula at 4 months. That guilt often comes out as judgment toward people who choose to formula feed from the beginning. This prevents me from having the most authentic conversations with people because of my judgment. Release your cultural judgments to really meet that person where they aren’t.
Ask open-ended questions.
More often than not, people are less than willing to volunteer their true thoughts and feelings about something they are struggling with. Asking open-ended questions (not yes or no) can let them know that you are truly reaching out to them and willing to listen. Personally, when I am asked a non-judgmental question (as opposed to receiving some kind of statement or opinion) I feel so much more willing to share my thoughts and feelings about the topic.
Forgive when necessary
I have a very difficult time forgiving those that I feel have wronged me. I’m a very patient, committed person, but once someone crosses that line, to me they are no longer worth my time and care. But the truth is that if this is a family member or someone who will continue to be in your life, forgiveness can help to release any previously experienced pain and loss so that you can reach out and help this person. And let me qualify this for a moment—I do not mean that you should forget how they wronged you. That’s recipe for letting them walk all over you. Keep your healthy boundaries, but forgive. Forgiving them is about YOU, not them. Forgiving them means that you can move forward and allow the love and kindness to flow. It can also mean that you can be less emotional and more objective when speaking with them.
Understand and communicate to those around you that it’s okay to not be happy.
Emotions are meant to be felt. It is perfectly okay to feel sad, angry, frustrated, depressed, discouraged, overwhelmed, stressed, guilty, or any other number of emotions that we label as “negative”. It is not your responsibility to be happy all the time, nor is it someone else’s. For goodness’ sake, FEEL sad if you’re sad, just don’t unpack and live there! In Buddhism, love and understanding have the same meaning. So conveying understanding to those around you can not only validate them, but give them hope that they aren’t alone.
Overall, it’s a difficult path to walk. We’ve been taught so many things about the way life is that we don’t stop to question whether they are true. You CAN be supportive even if a person doesn’t want to do things your way. It IS okay not to feel happy all the time.
Meeting someone where they are means accepting them for who they are and where they are in their life. Sometimes all a person needs is someone to hold their hand and walk with to them to a better place.
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