Asking For Help Part 2

We recently started walking the Camino de Santiago. As is usual in most aspects of our lives, the Camino isn’t going quite as we had expected. We are learning about our limitations of walking, especially uphill with heavy packs. Sheila slept a total of one hour during our first night in a peregrinos’ Albergue, mostly due to several heavy snorers among our 100 plus fellow pilgrims. Sheila expressed her concern the tiles would shake loose from the roof due to the vibrations. We stayed at a much smaller and considerably quieter albergue a few nights ago and both got more sleep, but still not enough. 

Since we were facing several kilometers of a steep uphill climb and the rain was pouring down the next morning, we took an alternate Camino path downhill to a small village. We had learned this village had a bus stop and our plan was to bus it to our next destination. We waited for the bus which was due at 10:00 AM. It did not come. 

After trying to call the Pamplona bus station without success, Sheila approached a woman who was walking a dog in her bathrobe. (The woman was wearing the bathrobe.) In her limited Spanish, Sheila asked the woman if the bus was coming that day (on Sunday). We think she replied that a bus was doubtful. She left but soon came back up with the bus schedule on her cell phone. Since we were having trouble communicating with her, she called her niece who came around the corner within minutes. In fluent English, her niece explained the 10:00 bus was not coming, but thought another bus would arrive in about four hours. We thanked her, got directions to nearby restaurant, and started toward it. 

About half-way to the restaurant, we heard a woman calling to us. Our bus info friend, still in her bathrobe, came running around the corner. She pantomimed driving and inviting us back toward her home. We waited outside talking with her niece, while the woman changed her clothes. Then to our surprise, in this humble little town, we got into her brand new Mercedes. She sped off to Estella, which would have taken us about eight days to walk to given our usual pace. 

In addition to the almost surreal and certainly unexpected method of getting to where we wanted to go, we had the pleasure of getting to know both the woman and her niece. We gathered some insight into the culture of their small Spanish village. Almost all family members have continued to live in the village for many generations. They often have to find work in neighboring towns or nearby Pamplona. Every Sunday the extended family gets together for dinner. They also learned a bit about us and our current adventures. We assume their experience with us provided them a good story to tell at dinner.

This woman and her niece went out of their way to respond to our questions about the Sunday bus schedule. Then they went way beyond our request for help. Of course, this would not have happened if we had not initially asked for help. 

Back To The Blog

On the road with Donald in Scotland
Rick is on the road with Donald in Scotland

We had just started getting into a bit of a rhythm in blogging at the beginning of the summer, and then we began our traveling adventures. Our adventures started by visiting our youngest daughter and a nephew and niece in Pennsylvania and then we flew to Dublin, Ireland, in mid-July. For the past two months we have been traveling around Western Europe on a tight budget with our possessions in two 30 liter backpacks. We’ve travelled in Ireland, Scotland, England, and now Spain. 

While being so immersed in our incredible adventures and moving from place to place, we mostly neglected finishing the steps involved in publishing our book and entirely neglected posting on this blog. We did spend several days in the quiet countryside of south-central Ireland working on the book, discovering the realities of publishing were considerably more complex and time consuming than we had imagined. We were also frustrated by the inconsistent internet service there.  

Toward the end of August, we felt the urgency to actually publish our book, Bring Out The Best In Others. Staying in one place for a while seemed to be the only way to accomplish this. Thus, we planned to stay two weeks in Barcelona and are now in the middle of our third week here. Our book was published a few days ago and its official launch is Monday, September 16.  We are finally writing a new post.

The idea to write this book emerged nearly three-years-ago during our initial travels in Costa Rica and Panama. (You can learn more about this in our June 26, 2018 post, An Origin Story)

Our current travels have reinforced and expanded the ideas we wrote about in the book. So, we have decided to focus on reviewing and extending these ideas in our next series of posts. 

Asking For Help

Bring Out The Best In Others briefly discusses asking for help as a way to connect with people and bring out their best. We find ourselves lost and clueless in all sorts of ways as we travel to new and strange places. Although we have become more expert using Google Maps to find our way, there have been many times it is not enough.

For instance, when we first arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland, figuring out the correct bus stop to get to Roslin (where our Airbnb was located) was challenging. Several people helped guide us to the correct stop to catch the bus. We had learned that although Roslin was only seven miles from Edinburgh city centre, there would be 59 stops before ours. After getting on the correct bus, we started conversing with two older ladies sitting behind us. After communicating our confusion, they were eager to help us and assured us we would find the correct exit. We became their project. Since they were getting off the bus before us, they passed us on to their friends and those friends passed on to others. The “network” made sure we were informed to get off the bus at the correct stop. As we got off the bus and started looking around for our Airbnb, another woman, who had heard much of the conversation, pointed us in the right direction. 

We talked to several women at length during the hour-long bus ride. After sharing that we had been living in Panama the past several years, one woman told us about how her husband had worked on the Panama Canal and was well-known for engineering work around Scotland. 

We believe that most people want to help others and will go out of their way to do so when asked to. But you have to ask. Although there have been a few instances where our clueless looks and behavior have prompted others to ask, “Can I help you?”, generally, you need to ask.  

The above example is a relatively trivial example. We hope you will also consider asking for help in serious situations. It’s probably most important to ask for help from others when you feel like withdrawing from all human relationships.

We’d love to hear your experiences in asking for help (in the comments below).

 

 

How To Enjoy Holiday Dinner Conversations

Holiday Dinner by Lilly Cantabile
Holiday Dinner by Lilly Cantabile

The holiday season is approaching, awakening a variety of emotions. During the holidays we tend to emphasize spending time with family and friends. This can be both joyful and draining, sometimes simultaneously. Holiday dinner conversations can bring out family warmth and/or conflict.  

You may be hosting get-togethers of family and friends or you may be attending these gatherings. Read on for ideas and suggestions, whether you plan to be in either or both roles during the holidays. For many of us, being with a group of friends often seems easier, with less potential for arguments and ruffled feathers. This makes sense because we get to choose our friends and it is usually easier to disconnect from them, compared to family. Although this post is primarily concerned with family gatherings, some of these suggestions could apply to any type of small to mid-sized get-togethers.

Consider Your Own Expectations and Intent 

Whether you are the host or an attendee to a family party, it is important to consider your own intent and expectations. You may be primarily wanting to celebrate, enjoy, and have a pleasantly memorable time with your family. On the other hand you may have a burning to desire to have spirited discussions about subjects you know to be controversial within your family, want to share news about yourself or views you have that may have a mixed reception, or see this as an opportunity to “help” a family member with a problem or issue you believe they have yet to handle in a satisfactory manner. Of course, you may have some of both types of expectations and intents.  

My view is that family holiday dinners and gatherings should be celebrations of our mutual connections, not forums for debating issues that are likely to be controversial. It is not the place to counsel your sister concerning the unwise and self-sabotaging choices you feel she has been making or to try to change your brother’s ridiculous and dangerous political views. It is a time to focus on what you enjoy and appreciate about each other and engage in mutually fun and satisfying activities. Since everybody likes to eat and many family dinners offer wide choices of food where everyone is likely to be satisfied, these type of family functions already have a built-in enjoyable communal centerpiece. It may also be helpful that it’s hard to talk with your mouth full. 

I am not saying that there is never a time and place to have the second type of interactions with family members. You may have significant concerns about a family member’s behavior and choices. Approaching them individually after you have reinforced your connection with them at a family gathering is likely to have greater impact. You might arrange one-to-one time with them, perhaps over dinner or during/after some activity like tennis, shopping, or a movie. If you live far apart, arranging for an extended phone call might be best. (As a side note, I strongly recommend not to air your concerns on social media.) However, realize that some changes take time and repeated discussions may be needed. I’d recommend that you first engage your relative by thoroughly listening as openly as possible and at length to their views about the situation before offering your own advice or viewpoint. Our forthcoming book, Bringing Out The Best In Others, provides in-depth information about this and other communication skills. Still, I’d like you to think carefully about taking this step. You may decide that continuing your loving and supportive relationship with that person outweighs the risk of seriously damaging the relationship by bringing up your concerns about her behaviors or airing potentially controversial views.  

For The Host

Even if you agree with me that family holiday time should be filled with celebration and sharing, conflicts can come up. If you are part of a family where it is not uncommon for tense conversations to occur, you may want to set up some ground rules and let people know about them before the event. Consider the following:

  • If spirited political/religious discussions are likely to become uncomfortable for at least some family members, consider setting up a caucus room (with a door) as the only place that these types of discussions are allowed. People can come and go as they wish. Family members not interested in talking about politics can simply avoid the room.
  • As a host, you may want to talk with some or all family members before the celebration. If you feel the need, you may want to ask for suggestions and/or share your ground rules. My father loved to bring up politics and religion at family dinners, often dominating the conversation. When his older sister would host a family dinner, she directly told my father that she would not allow this. She also mentioned this to other family members that were coming. As a result, the conversations were pleasant and included everyone. 
  • The host can also explain the use of a talking implement, whether utilized in the caucus room or in other areas. For controversial conversations, a talking utensil, such as a turkey baster or Christmas ornament, might be used. The person holding the turkey baster is allowed to talk without interruption. When finished, the person passes the baster on to the next person desiring to talk. This procedure reminds others to listen to the speaker without interrupting. This only works when family members are willing to share the baster and not soliloquize until others start snoring or screaming. 
  • Strategic arrangement of seating placements at the dinner table can be helpful at times. If you know specific relatives tend to be argumentative, do not have them seated directly across from or next to each other.
  • What do you do about the relative that seems to love to stir things up with controversial and critical comments? If you have set up ground rules and they are being ignored and interaction becomes argumentative, you can request that they save the conversation for the caucus room. If you have not set up prior ground rules, use your authority as the host to request that this conversation be taken up after dinner. The host could also try to redirect the conversation, perhaps by telling a joke, asking people what they want for dessert, or any diversion you can think of.
  • Many families have structured activities such as sports, card games, board games, and charade-type games during family events. The more time people are engaged in these activities and enjoying each other, the less likelihood of conflict.
  • If excessive alcohol has been a contributing factor in past unpleasant family get-togethers, be mindful of the alcohol flow prior to and during dinner. The host may need to devise some way to control alcohol use, perhaps including this in the ground rules. Alcohol may have more dramatic effects with an empty stomach than a full stomach, so paying attention to the alcohol flow before dinner might be most important. 

For Those Attending

Some family members may become argumentative, make critical comments, or ask loaded questions despite everyone else’s attempt to keep the peace. Consider the following to help keep things from escalating to unpleasant exchanges. The first two points offer things you could do proactively, that might avoid conflict, while the remaining points cover ideas if the situation becomes challenging for you.

  

  • Use this family time to strengthen your connection with others. This often involves demonstrating you really care about them. Emphasizing areas of differences and disagreement seldom reinforces your bond with others.
  • Ask questions that reflect your interest in the person’s life and well-being. Elicit personal stories of what they and their immediate family have been up to since you last saw them. Talk about what you’ve been doing.
  • Ignore any “little digs” whenever possible. Responding will likely escalate things.
  • Arguing back and defending your position only adds fuel to the fire. Instead of focusing on the content, pay attention to the feelings and emotions being expressed. Acknowledging the feelings of the speaker can help them to feel understood and to calm down. You don’t need to agree with what the other person is saying but you can hear and identify what emotion they’re having. You might respond, “You sound angry to me. I understand that it must be infuriating to you.” or “I understand. It seems like you feel hurt.” Focusing on another’s feelings is not about facts or your opinions. When a person feels understood they are likely to calm down and lessen their argumentative or abrasive tone. 
  • If you feel you have to disagree with something, say it respectfully and move on. 
  • If some family members persist in talking about controversial social/political/religious issues, you might look for areas of mutual concern and distress and try to direct the focus of the conversation on these aspects. When people have significant differences about the causes and solutions to specific problems, they can often agree about their concern and worry about the issue in general. Remember, you can also excuse yourself to the bathroom when these types of conversations come up. 
  • Use your sense of humor. If things do get a bit over-the-top, think of the stories you can tell your friends.

Excellent additional suggestions concerning family conversations can be found at https://www.livingroomconversations.org/friends-and-family-guide/

We have just found a fun interactive bot that you can use to practice conversations with either your ultra liberal or conservative relatives. Try it out!