The Lost Art of Being Truly Helpful

by Diane Berenbaum

 "Unselfish and noble actions are the most radiant pages in the biography of souls." 
       - David Thomas


We were all taught to help others when we were young. It is a value that parents and teachers have been sharing for ages. Yet, sometimes we get so focused on our own world that we don't always go out of our way to help others— we just have too much on our minds and too much on our plates.

A couple of recent events reminded me that even a small, altruistic gesture can send a powerfully big message.

Softball Players Go Above and Beyond for…a Competitor

Western Oregon softball player, Sara Tucholsky, had never hit a home run. But last month, this diminutive senior hit what looked like a three-run homer against Central Washington. Sara watched as her ball went over a fence, and in the process, failed to touch first base. When she turned back to touch the bag, she injured her knee and went down.

By rule, if any of her teammates touched her, she would be unable to advance and have to settle for a single. But a remarkable thing happened. Central Washington's first baseman, Mallory Holtman, said words that touched everyone who heard them: “Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?”

The umpires approved. Then two Central Washington players lifted Tucholsky and brought her to each base, gently lowering her so that she could touch each one. They carried her all the way to home and were rewarded with a standing ovation. 

An Unselfish Act Makes My Day

Being helpful is not always about making history or winning games. After gathering items at a Whole Foods market the other day, I was ready to check out. Just as I was vacillating between two lines, a cashier called out to me, “Come into my line!”, she exclaimed. “I'll be happy to help you. Martha over there has been busy all day and deserves a break.”

At this request, I made my way over to her and smiled, thinking about what just occurred. This woman took two discretionary actions that were in someone else's best interests…and not necessarily her own:

  • 1.  She proactively called out to me to help me with my groceries: That's rare. Most cashiers stay in their lines and wait for the next customer. She could have easily let me go to Martha's line and not said a word.
  • 2.  She voluntarily gave her fellow employee a break from a busy day and took on the work herself.

Two seemingly minor gestures; but think of what happened as a result.

The other cashier was grateful for her associate's generous offer to take a customer, and in the process, give her a break at the same time. In all likelihood, this cashier will have a more positive feeling about her associate and her association with that store in general.

And, I was impressed. I got a warm, fuzzy feeling from the place, as opposed to the usual transactional feeling one gets at a grocery store. And when a customer is impressed, all sorts of positive things can happen—she can tell others, shop more frequently from that store and purchase more items when she shops.

What Does “Being Truly Helpful” Really Mean?

So, what exactly does it mean to be “truly helpful”? There are examples all around you. Can you think of a few people who help you in your job? How do they help you? 

Being helpful is about giving of yourself to aid others. It is not always about doing what others want—it is about helping people in what they need. 

The willingness to help is at the core of true service and is at the heart of a great leader. When you are truly helpful, you may:

  • Make things easier for others

  • Get work done more quickly and effectively

  • Learn new and better ways of doing things

  • Improve communication and collaboration

  • Build relationships and team spirit

  • Create a more desirable work environment

What Can You Do to Be More Helpful…Today?

So why don't we see these unselfish helpful acts more often? In grocery stores, in our own places of work, or in our world in general?

We all know that it is not hard to help, but it does take a conscious effort. Take a moment and ask yourself: “What can you do to be more helpful to a co-worker, a friend or a family member…or perhaps someone you don't even know?”

Commit to going above and beyond and help someone today.  It will make you feel more fulfilled tomorrow.


Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .
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Before and After
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