Meeting People Where They Are

Over the years, I have worked to help people of all ages, from a plethora of backgrounds, situations, and worldviews. I have been an educator, a caretaker, and a friend. I have worked in three different countries and cultural contexts, and in many different levels of involvement. Though I have learned many lessons, and hope to continue learning, how to best support those around me, I would like to take the time to discuss one of the biggest lessons I have learned from my experiences: Meet people where they are. Everyone you meet, work with, work for, and serve is a human just as you are. They have their own past, their own personality, and their own struggles. If we are to be effective, we must approach these people with an open mind, patience, love, and creativity. And this mindset really goes beyond work to how we interact with anyone in our lives. This mindset must be a focus for the people we directly serve, for our peers, and even for how we treat ourselves.

Related to those we are helping, this attitude affects what we see as progress, how we listen, and how we give to that person. Sometimes progress is fast and big, and other times it will be slow and small. Both are to be encouraged and celebrated. Allow people to work on issues at their own pace. Allow the little victories to be equally as important as the big ones. Allow the person to have bad days and backwards steps with your only reaction being care and support. Listen to them. Sometimes an ear is the biggest support you can give. Not only are you letting them talk through thoughts and emotions, but as you listen, you are learning more about them and where they are as a person, which can guide your future involvement. Most importantly, realize you cannot force change. The other person must make their own change. You are only there to help when needed. This means that sometimes you let them be, or let things be. This can be hard when you care deeply, but realize you cannot make internal change happen in another person. Trying to make internal change in another is not only impossible, but can be incredibly unhealthy and frustrating for you and for the other person. Approaching those to whom we give with this mindset can positively affect how we see them and how we see our involvement.

Secondly, this attitude affects how we view peers who are also trying to help. One of the biggest issues here is that we often expect those people to be some sort of neutral person without their own weaknesses or worldviews. We expect them to think the same as we do and to think the same things help when, very often, they do not. Often they disappoint us, frustrate us, and conflict with us. This can lead to our peers being as much or more of a stressor than the actual struggles. Again, we must listen to these people with an open mind and consider their viewpoint. We should try to find the strengths in that person, and allow those strengths to be our focus. We realize that this peer will make mistakes, and so will we, and forgiving and supporting each other is incredibly important. When this is understood, we quit expecting something different, or more, from that person, we appreciate who they are and how we can work together, because the truth is we are working toward the same goals, and we are not going to change each other. Now, do not get me wrong. As peers, we can also challenge each other to grow; we can find ways to compromise and become a better team. When we work together to reach the people we are helping, and when we are all here with love and care for others, and we accept this, we are less frustrated, and our teamwork can be effective.

Finally, we must also apply this concept to how we treat ourselves. In many ways, this is the most important person toward whom we should express this mindset. We have to accept that we are flawed and limited. We are going to make mistakes. There are times when we fall short and won't be enough for the work or for others. When entering a situation, we come with our own experiences, biases, history, and internal struggles. When we want to see changes in our own lives, we have to be honest and open about where we are and have realistic expectations. Accepting this and moving forward is all we can really do. Dwelling on our shortcomings does not help. We should apply the same kind of patience and love to ourselves in our personal lives and in our work.

Using this attitude has been a growing focus of mine over time. Whether it be with those I help, my peers, or within myself, I understand that we are all only humans working to improve the world. Nothing will be perfect. We must meet people where they are. We must open our minds and hearts to what life has given and enter tomorrow with positivity and hope. My experience has shown this to be a healthier and more successful worldview. As I continue to love and serve people with patience and attention, I remind myself of this and let myself practice peace and growth.

Photo shows HA: Ghana Volunteer Jude and a friend he made when both had to find a seat on the rooftop of a bus.