I learned a lesson about compassion the other day. In my attempt to offer advice to a friend, I thought she wanted me to provide her with how I thought she should solve a problem with her ex-husband. But she didn't need that. She needed someone to listen to her. She needed someone to hear her. She needed someone to be there for her. Because sometimes being a single parent is difficult for not having anyone there to bounce ideas off of; having only have yourself to lean on; having only your own advice to give and to take.

And as I offered my friend a solution to her problem she became frustrated with me and told me I wasn't listening to her. My attempt to provide her with answers really only left her feeling more alone, rather than more supported. It became clear to me that I was not only not being a good friend, I was adding to her angst rather than helping to relieve it.

It was humbling for me. For someone who is used to jumping in to advocate for my clients, for someone who is used to fighting when others cannot, for someone who is used to providing answers to questions in times of crisis, I was at a loss for my friend. I was once told by a mentor mine that sometimes the best thing you can do is to ask this question before giving an answer: What do you need from me right now?

When we ask that question we learn what role it is that will be most helpful, that will offer the most guidance, that will be the most comfort. We learn from the other: do you want my advice or do you want me to just listen? Do you want me to fight for you or do you want me to just sit and be quiet with you?

Because when we ask how we can best be of service to one another, we offer our compassion first. We offer to let the person be who they are in their moments of weakness and sadness. We offer to be who they need us to be, rather than who we think we should be.

This is the life.


  1. Hi Allison. I have done that,too. Dont be too hard on yourself though. You had every good intention to help your fiend and that counts.Susan

  2. This resonates withme. I am a helper and I have learned that sometimes people don't want help, they want someone to dump their problems on. Great idea to ask, What do you need me to do?


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