Smitha is waiting for bus no. 27, which will take her to Temple Town, which is on the far end of the city. Somehow the bus seems to be very late that day! She asks another lady standing nearby whether 27 has gone. That lady says “No” and adds that she too had been waiting for the same bus for the last half hour. The two ladies continue to talk for a while blaming the city bus service and public services in general. Smitha learns that the other lady also is going to Temple Town where she is doing a computer course. At last, when Smitha has waited for nearly 40 minutes in vain, she thinks she should not be late to her insurance class and hails an auto, gets into it and speeds away.
Did Smitha think of asking the other lady to go with her? If perchance the other lady had requested Smitha to allow her to go with her, would Smitha have agreed? Most probably she would have. Wouldn’t she? How is it then that it didn’t occur to Smitha to take the initiative and offer to take the other person in the auto?
We believe in helping people. In fact, we are, in general, a helpful lot. Aren’t we? If anybody makes a request to us for some or the other help we do extend a helping hand. But how about helping people on our own – i.e., even without a formal request from others? How will it feel if we can see the needs or difficulties of other people and on our own initiative offer to help them? Such spontaneous action is called the “proactive approach”. Such a disposition makes us truly caring and empathetic persons.
We come across many situations where we find that there are opportunities to help people. Some people do help. But others may not help unless someone asks for help. Of course, there may be some who may not help even when requested. But let us leave such people alone. Let us think of those who wish to help and like to help but who do not think of the pleasure of helping by taking the initiative themselves.
We can think of innumerable situations where proactive help can be offered by us. Think of an occasion where there is an auto-rickshaw strike in the city. As a result, the city bus stands are overcrowded. Many people go by their vehicles – two-wheelers or four-wheelers. How many people stop their vehicles and offer to take some of the waiting people at least?
As we are watering the plants in our gardens or simply watching standing out on the balcony, we find a person going up and down the street in front of our house. It looks as if he is searching for some house. Do we ask him, “Sir, are you searching for a house or something?” Or we leave it to him to take the initiative and ask for help if he requires it? If we do ask he might say, “Oh, yes. Thank you. I am looking for Mr. Patel’s house.” Some people feel that there is no need to take such an initiative and go out of our way to ask people whether they need help and offer it. If they want something they will ask for it. Won’t they? This is what they feel. Perhaps they are right. But when you sense that someone is in some need and your heart goes out to that person and you volunteer to help, such help is of a deeper and nobler kind.
The proactive approach can make life more enjoyable in many ways. Imagine that a friend is coming to visit you. He is coming for the first time. You have given him detailed directions and also indicated landmarks. When the time for his visit comes what do you do? Do you carry on with your usual routine without bothering much about the convenience or otherwise of the guest? Or, do you keep yourself prepared in different ways – maybe keep people in the household informed that a newcomer is due to arrive, tie the dog in its kennel and perhaps, just be outside in the garden or better still walk up and down the street? I remember an occasion when someone requested me to go over to his place to help him with his application for a housing loan. When I reached the place I was rudely greeted by two ferocious dogs barking at me like the hounds of the Baskervilles! After what seemed an eternity a woman came and opened the gate and led me in. Then again I was made to wait for a long time and at long last, the host came and shook hands with me. When I said I was afraid of his dogs he said, “Why do you worry? Haven’t you heard the adage, ‘Barking dogs seldom bite?’ ” I said I had heard it all right but the question was whether his dogs had heard it.
On a certain occasion, I was waiting for the city bus. A bus came and stopped in front of me. I could see that all the seats – gents’ and ladies’ – were occupied. One single lady was standing near the driver looking towards the front. When the bus stopped one of the ladies who was seated got up, went past the standing passenger and got down. No one got in. The bus moved forward. The lady who was standing continued in that position. Could the lady who got down have indicated to the standing passenger that a seat – her seat – had fallen vacant?
New neighbors coming to our area give us plenty of occasions to put to good use our proactive nature. Instead of merely wondering who they are and what they are, we can visit them and offer them help in many ways – tell them about arrangements for milk, gas, newspaper and such other things. If possible we can also lend things till they are able to unpack their luggage and maybe, send some food for the first day?
Imagine that we are going to an autocratic. Suddenly it is seen that the petrol has run out. The automan gets down and starts pushing the vehicle.
What do we do? Of course, the least we can do is to get down and walk along. But suppose we do not just get down but also lend a hand in pushing the auto?
A common instance where we can use the proactive approach is when we get a telephone call which is a ‘wrong number’. Most people brusquely say “Wrong number” and unceremoniously put the phone down. Those who are a little more considerate might ask, “What number do you want?” But there are some, though few, who ask a few more friendly questions and try to see whether some method can be found to help the other person. I have had at least some occasions where, by asking helpful questions, it was possible to establish a link and solve the other person’s problem.
Another situation where we can show some proactivity is when we are waiting either in the waiting room of a doctor’s clinic or in some other place like the passport office or some such public office where the waiting time is usually long and boring. If someone starts a conversation the time may pass a little faster or in a less boring manner. Who should take the initiative? Can we do that? Some time back I read a touching story which shows to what extent a person can go on a proactive approach. In a remote area, there were two patients in a hospital room. Both of them were bedridden. But one of them was allowed to sit up for about an hour in the day and look out of the single window, which was behind his bed. During these short intervals of sitting up and having a glimpse of the outer world, he would describe what he saw to the other patient who would listen with keen interest. He would describe the plants and the trees and the birds and the other animals. Sometimes he would mention clouds and rain and at other times the bright sunshine. This narration of the beauty and music of nature would gladden the heart of the other fellow.
One day, however, this patient died in his sleep. The other patient pleaded that he be allowed to occupy that man’s bed near the window and the permission was granted. With Herculean effort he propped himself up till he could look out of the window and what does he see? Nothing but a blank wall! He called the nurse and told her how the other patient used to describe the beauty of nature to him in such vivid terms. “How could he do that?” exclaimed the surprised matron, “The man was stark blind!”
There is another touching story. A holy man was having his meal. Just then a vagabond came, snatched the chapathi from the holy man’s hand and ran away. The holy man ran after the thief, calling out and shouting, “Wait wait, don’t eat the bare chapathi. Take some sabzi (vegetable preparation) also.”
These stories stir our hearts but it may not be easy for us to become such heroic or self-effacing souls. But we have enough occasions in our day-to-day lives when we can show a proactive approach and lend a helping hand in simple, ordinary, mundane matters without having to make great sacrifices.
Safe or not?
But a question arises whether it is always safe to adopt the proactive approach? Is it possible that sometimes the others may resent our initiatives and even indicate that we better minded our own business? What is worse, is it possible that we may fall into traps set by unscrupulous persons who want to take undue advantages of us? Well, such things are possible. There is no doubt about it. We hear of conmen who deceive others. But the point is, do we have to stop being proactive and helpful just because someone somewhere deceived someone else? On a certain occasion. I asked a standing passenger to occupy the vacant seat by my side which, I thought, he had not noticed. He declined my offer stating that he was getting down at the next stop. Does this mean that I should stop taking such initiatives at all?
A very special occasion to show the proactive initiative arises when someone who has hurt you realizes his or her fault and tries to apologize and make amends. She has not yet come to the stage of saying sorry but it is clear from her behavior and body language that she wants to make up. What can we do in such a case? Wait for her to acknowledge her fault and ask for our forgiveness or behave in such a way that it becomes easy for her to make amends? This type of situation arises quite often in our relations with our spouses or our children – both ways. Doesn’t it? I recall the famous Biblical story of the Prodigal Son. The grief-stricken father was going up the hill every day, waiting for his son’s return!
Another great occasion for showing a proactive attitude is in praising and appreciating people for their good deeds. There are many instances where we like and appreciate what people do – be they our family members, office associates or those with whom we have to do business. We feel the happy and pleased heart of hearts. We may even mention our appreciation to others (i.e., not the person concerned but someone else). But do we praise the person who made us happy or in whom we found the good quality or good behavior? If we find that the city bus conductor is extremely courteous and helpful, especially to old people, we definitely feel a glow of appreciation in our hearts. But the point is whether we keep the feeling to ourselves or make an enthusiastic mention of it to the conductor. If we take the initiative and praise the persons who do good we would succeed in spreading happiness in a large measure. There are many ways in which the proactive approach can be applied. Not merely in helping people but also in other ways like volunteering to take up community service, pointing things out for the benefit of civic administrators and writing letters to the editors of newspapers and in many other ways. However, I have confined myself in this write-up to the proactive approach involved in lending a helping hand to our friends, colleagues, and relatives in our day-to-day family and social lives. The proactive attitude can be used in various walks of life to help ourselves enjoy fuller and happier lives.
By Clifford Martis