Ways to Help People Without Actually Doing Anything (and Why They’re Actually Better)

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When we think of ways to help or serve others, we tend to narrowly think of only physical service: giving someone money, helping mow a lawn, or volunteering at a soup kitchen.
But physical service is only one of many ways to help others. There are so many other important ways to serve, and if we’re only considering physical service, we’re missing out on a lot of opportunities to help others.
This idea came to me today while pondering on today’s Sunday School lesson for the 4-5 year olds on service.
So, how can you serve someone other than physically giving them cookies, helping sweep their floor, or rubbing their back?


It really doesn’t matter how well off someone is, if they’re unhappy. Emotional service includes:

  • Helping others feel accomplished, valued, or validated
  • Helping others to manage their emotions
  • Giving someone a hug


Give a man to fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for the rest of his life.

Teaching valuable skills and knowledge is another way to serve.
Examples include:

  • Teach a child to read
  • Teach someone to use a computer, do home renovations or cook a healthy meal
  • Share an anecdotal story from your experience that may help someone with their challenges


Help someone make better decisions. For example:

  • Teaching children to get along
  • Helping students experience the benefits of hard work
  • Praising peers for the good decisions they’ve already made


[Cognition] is the mental process of knowing, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment.


Similar to intellectual and moral service, you can help someone have more positive cognition by just helping them think straight. I think that often means listening to what’s going on in their life and providing some validation on what you think they’ve got right and what needs adjustment.
You need an excellent relationship with the person before you can help in this way, because it’s very personal. But I suspect this is a service most of us rarely receive (except, perhaps, from an overbearing know-it-all, which is guaranteed to not be well-received and of any use).
For example:

  • Does someone think having a cool car or house will make them happy? Maybe they haven’t yet understood the happiness from materialism is temporary.
  • Is someone constantly negative, always dwelling on what others did that’s wrong or perceived injustices? It would probably make them much happier if you could help them dwell more on the positive.
  • Has someone got an unhealthy obsession (or maybe addiction)? Like work, video games, or speculating about current events? It may be difficult, but maybe the help they need most is achieving more balance in their lives.


[Spirituality is] making meaning of one’s life.


That’s from a research paper on adolescent development. It’s not religious at all. That’s a much broader definition than most of us think of when we hear “spirituality.” But I think it totally makes sense: regardless of your religion, you need to have a sense of purpose in life. Maybe it’s to help your kids, or advance your field, or to experience as much of the world as possible. Helping others to have purpose can be a great service to them.
I think sharing your purpose in life, and what you think is really important, can help others find theirs.


Some people have all the stuff they want, they just don’t have someone to share it with. I, for one, don’t need to work in a busy office or go for lunch with friends everyday. But once or twice a month something like that helps me. The rest of the time, I’d rather just socialize with my family.
Often people don’t need someone to provide any particular service other than to listen and show interest in what they have to say. For someone feeling isolated, that is a far greater service than a batch of cookies.

Actually, Most Ways to Help Don’t Require Doing Anything

By that, I mean most ways to help others doesn’t require the usual things we think of, like giving them stuff or doing labour for them. People are more than money or the physical things they possess. People need to be emotionally stable, educated, making good choices, be able to think clearly, have purpose, and feel like they’re not alone. Helping them with those aspects of their well-being count just as much as anything physical.
So let’s try not to think of helping others in such a narrow, limiting way. Sure it’s easier to see and praise someone for the more noticeable physical ways to serve. But I think that, most of the time, it’s the non-physical service that is the most needed.
So, am I totally out to lunch? Tell me your thoughts.
The features image is of Grampa Colin reading to Danielle and Celeste… not a big deal right now, but an act of love that I think will serve them for the rest of their lives.

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