In a community full of needs, how may we help?

Friday , July 13, 2018 - 12:00 AM

Guest Columnist

The great Utah teacher, writer and humanitarian, Lowell L. Bennion, once wrote a book with the simple title, “How Can I Help?”

He died in 1996, the year it was published. But those who knew him knew his life had been lived in thoroughly responding to that question — “How can I help?” He learned early to recognize the needs of his community, of his neighbors and of individuals he had not known before. He dedicated his life to serving them.

He started a boys’ ranch to help wayward youth who needed some guidance away from their troubles. In his ’80s, he climbed ladders to paint widows’ homes. With crippled, arthritic hands, he continued to deliver food baskets to the homebound poor in his old, difficult-to-maneuver, pickup truck. When a group of close friends collectively bought him a new mini station wagon with a push-button rear window, they registered and licensed it in his name before presenting it. They knew otherwise he would have tried to give it to someone he thought needed it more.

Perhaps these friends intuitively knew how to help. Perhaps his own example of how to learn the needs of others is what they followed. Lowell’s pattern was to pay attention to people, to observe to listen with his ears and with his heart to what they had to say.

A friend of mine, whose wife struggled with issues that left him with virtually all the paternal and maternal duties of the family, once wrote a poem of desperation. His circumstance encompassed him with responsibility for the care of his wife, three small children, his full-time job, and his educational pursuits.

This is a brief summary of what he wrote:

“I have tried to this hopeless end to put out the fires. The fires continue to rage. My hands are burned and worn from trying to contain the heat. I just can’t try anymore. Life has burned me and left.”

My friend’s words likely represent the feelings of many who believe life is hopeless. Miraculously, he found a way out of the morass. But his life could have been made much easier much sooner, had others been able to recognize his condition.

Sometimes people around those in trouble have difficulty listening or seeing what really needs to be done.

A group of well-intentioned, good hearted, charitable women learned of a single mother with four little children who was asking for assistance. The leaders of the group visited the home. As they spoke with the mother, she told them she needed child care, so she could finish her degree to qualify for work that would allow her to support herself and her kids.

What the leaders saw was a messy house. So, they recruited a small army from the local congregation and scoured the place. The result was a sparkly clean house. They felt good about what they had done.

A few months later, the house was a mess again, and the mother still had been unable to return to college because her biggest need was childcare, which she could not afford. In order to cope, she had gotten herself into some addictive habits.

There are many reasons people do not receive the help they need. Sometimes they’re too modest to ask. Sometimes they overtly reject offers of assistance. Sometimes others, who view them as beyond help from their addictive or compulsive ways, are unwilling to get involved. Sometimes those who would like to help are simply blind to the real needs.

The expression of genuine concern by building trust with truly observant eyes, a listening ear and a listening heart, will bring the recognition of ways we can be of assistance. Once we arrive at that level of cognizance, we will have the answer to the question, “How may we help?”

As we fit ourselves into the Lowell Bennion way of life, here are some of his words to consider:

“When we meet people’s needs with unconditional love, we…are blessed. But love needs to be expressed intelligently to enhance the lives of others. To love unconditionally blesses the giver of love. To love with an understanding of the other person and in a way, that satisfies in some measure his or her need, blesses the recipient of our love.”

Robert A. Hunter is Director of The Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service at Weber State University.

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