This Is What You Should Do When People Offer To Help

February 13, 2017 — 13 Comments

A couple weekends ago I flew to Boston.

I boarded my flight with my usual gear; my Tom Bihn backpack and my carry-on suitcase on wheels. As I walked toward my seat in the back of the plane, I heard someone ask, “Can I help with anything?” “Oh, I’m good,” I replied. Then another offer for help. Then another. “With what? I’m literally just walking!” I thought to myself, all the while smiling and thanking them for their offers. I wasn’t even close to my seat yet, so I though that I must have looked extra pathetic.

I finally made it to my seat and…you guessed it, one more offer to “give me a hand.” “No thank you,” I smiled.

Then I looked at the overhead compartment and thought, “Dude, you better not eff this up.”

I didn’t, in case you were wondering.

I sat there thinking about what had happened and honestly, I was kind of annoyed. I told a friend about it and she said, “At least people were being nice.”


See, that’s my philosophy 99% of the time! I appreciate that people are trying to be kind even though their assumption that I need help could be taken as an offense. I’d rather spend my energy being thankful than offended. It took me a long time to get to this place, honestly. When I was more immature I just wanted to prove everybody wrong and it was always about me and the assumption that people were trying to put me down. I think it’s very rare that someone is trying to offend you or question your capabilities when they offer to help; they’re simply trying to be kind. And that’s good.

I was actually flying to Boston to attend the Helping Hands Foundation‘s Winter Outing and I was able to tell the parents this story and try to encourage them. As parents, we really want to try and figure everything out and do things “the right way.” And for parents of kids with physical differences, there are even more situations at play. How do we deal with people staring? Name-calling? Unwanted offers of assistance?

I’ve been at this living one-handed thing for nearly 40 years and I don’t have the answers to those questions figured out yet. And honestly, I’m not so sure that’s even a good goal. The best we can do, I think, is what we think is right and be patient with each other and ourselves the rest of the time. Most of the time offers to help don’t bother me a bit. That day, on that flight, for some reason…did. And that’s ok. There are times when getting stared at still bothers me, too. It’s part of the experience.

If you’re a parent and you’re worried about how to help your kid navigate these sometimes tricky waters, here’s my encouragement:

Be gracious. Be patient. With yourself, your child and with others. You’re doing an amazing job. Just keep doing your best and when those times come where things don’t go according to plan, learn from it and move forward. You got this.

And if you need any advice, I’m happy to give you a hand.

But, just one.


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I'm a husband, a father, an author, a speaker, a friend...all kinds of things, actually.

13 responses to This Is What You Should Do When People Offer To Help

  1. Great attitude — I give 1.5 out of 1.5 thumbs up!

    I agree with you that when I was younger, I saw it as a challenge to my ability to do things with a minor disability but thankfully as I’ve grown older, I too have mellowed.

    And now I’m in that part of life where I might just take them up on it since having only one independently functioning finger on my right hand has given me carpal tunnel and now things that were easy to life are harder to lift.

    • Has surgery been suggested?
      I have one intact hand so was devastated when carpal tunnel set in.
      Added to that the delay in diagnosis because I also had a nerve pain coming from further up.
      Finally diagnosed.
      My surgeon timed the surgery for when my daughter would be on school holidays.
      Bit of a challenge to keep out of water during the recovery period.
      (I can tell you that bit about wearing rubber gloves to do washing up works; nails to die for!)
      I consider Carpal Tunnel Surgery to be one of the great pieces of magic; pain all gone immediately.

      • I have the same problem were my only intact hand has carpel tunnle I haven’t gotten the surgery for it but it’s also cuz’ I can not afford it. I find it kind of frustrating that it had happened because my hand had gotten it but it’s understanable because I over use it.

        Did your insurance pay for it all?

  2. Yeah, 40 is in my rear-view and I, too, still let myself get irritated by unsolicited offers to help.

  3. Been at this one-handed life for two learning to accept help ONLY if I need it. Try to remain graciously grateful when I don’t. No one owes me anything.

  4. 8 years on from losing my left arm. This morning at the shops I had two people go out of their way to open doors for me and then at the supermarket I put the the half full shopper on wheels we use into a big supermarket trolley so I didnt have to carry a basket and the shopper at the same time, which I find difficult. At the cash desk I loaded all the food into my shopper on wheels which was still sitting in the supermarket trolley and wheeled the trolley out to the front of the store. As the shopper was now full and quite heavy, I made a real mess of trying to lift it out of the trolley. Two kind women came to my help – the only thing was that they thought I was trying to get the shopper into the trolley in rather than out of it! but once we sorted that out, everything was fine. But how do I feel about that? A strange mixture of gratitude, embarrassment and frustration. Despite that we should always express thanks to people who try to help

  5. A good article! This is something I’ve had to work through for myself as well. When I was younger I resented having my disability pointed out to me. But now I am a bit more mature and I realize that people are being nice and I am more allowing of them to be nice. Any more I might say, “Oh thank you but this is something I’ve been trying to learn to do on my own. Let me give it a try first.” I go to a climbing gym that has an adaptive class with volunteers. The volunteers are 20 somethings and are eager to do a lot of things for me. But then there is the program leader who gets after me to learn to things for myself. It’s a series of mixed messages. Life is an adventure.

  6. I came without my naturally strong right forearm so have this left arm which is ‘worn out, tired and buggered’.
    I hope that translates without offence.
    When I was young I was very, very independant and would refuse all offers, even when I could have done with help.
    That’s not all bad; I wanted to be able to do things myself and get on with life.
    I now better recognise times when I need help and will accept it or ask for it.
    I also recognise that I don’t have to have the same standards as I had in my earlier life, now that the arm is ‘over it’.
    Housework gets done on a priority basis and I am about to employ a casual housekeeper.

    Funny story: Waiting with a suitcase for the train at a small suburban station.
    Have plan in place, as we all do.
    Just as I am about to grab hold of the bag to put it in the train, another lady also grabbed it.
    So, we have two ladies and a bag stuck in the automatic doors for a couple of minutes til we managed to free ourselves.
    Helpers: please signal your intentions!

  7. Why do I always cry for my little Sylar? I know he will be OK. He always just tells others he was born that way. He so far doesn’t get bothered but I do (GRAMMY). Please tell me how to get over it before he sees my hurt. Thank you for what you do.

  8. 2 months ago, my son shot my 8 yr old grandson in the head and then took his own life. My grandson survived and we are now parents again. He is not able to use his left arm. Insights? Advice? Resources?

  9. I am in my 60’s and worn down from 30 years of cancer and treatment. recently lost almost all use of one hand from chemo-caused neuropathy, hence the reason for me coming to this website. I would be thrilled to pieces if anybody ever offered to help me with anything, ever. The only time i ever see anyone offering to help women, is a guy offering to “help” someone young and hot, with the goal of getting into her pants. I limp, Im bald, and my right arm is wrapped in compression bandages, and mostly people roll. their eyes, sigh heavily,or complain about my
    being too slow

    There. I have gotten that out now.

  10. I too was born without my left hand and agree with you. I think personally I am quite stubborn and if I struggle it just makes me want to succeed more, time will go out the window and battle will commence 🙂 I always win haha. The desire to be independent can be strong but this stems from being a child and wanting to do everything your friends did, I’m sure we still do. I would not have it any other way. My missing hand makes me, ME!

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