“God damn it.”
I knew he did it with only the best of intentions, but I couldn’t help but feel angry nonetheless.
My dad, seeing that I had set a box of spaghetti on the kitchen countertop decided to help boil it. He did it without asking and by doing so, I ended up with a plate of mushy goodness instead of the al dente spaghetti I had hoped for.
What he had done by trying to help was more of a disservice than anything.
We have the best intentions when we’re helping out, but sometimes if we extend our help beyond what’s asked of us, like giving out solicited advice, we do more harm than good.
It can be something as simple as closing a door that’s been left open because we don’t realize it’s been left intended for a reason.
Or something deeper, more complex like the unconditional love our parents have for us when they try and take care of everything but end up hurting us instead because we lack the knowledge and experience for life after college.
In China, after trying to bring back my food tray in a food court, I was begged not to: “Sir, please don’t. Just let me do it — it’s my job and if people see you doing it, I’ll get fired.”
What might seem obvious to us isn’t always as interpreted, especially in cultures other than the ones we’re familiar with. We look and react to situations based on our own experiences from our own cultures, but not that of the intended. We assume we know, but we really don’t. And sometimes even if we’ve assumed correctly, there’s a chance we’ll have done more harm regardless because of a different expectations.
My dad had made an accurate assumption that I had wanted to cook the spaghetti — I did want to cook it, but not to the extent of which he cooked it or the method he did it. And for all that could’ve happened, what if I had decided last minute not to cook pasta that night instead? Who could’ve actually known besides me?
The point isn’t to avoid helping others. Helping out or offering to help is one of the greatest things anyone can do. It’s just to not make assumptions if you do want to be of help; ask first — ask to clarify, ask to make your intentions known and ask to gain permission.
Asking the cleaning lady at the food courts in China, “Excuse me ma’am, could you tell me where I could put these plates away” does more than just to clarify where to put away the dishes, it makes your intention known and in the best way possible, seek permission. If she responds by telling me not to worry about it, then I won’t, but at the very least, my help was already offered and my intentions made known.