I was instantly struck when I first heard the term Human Can Opener. It accurately summed up so many feelings and frustrations I’ve had when dealing with different people in my life.
Think about the old school manual can openers with the silver crank. After squeezing the handles together and puncturing the lid with the sharp, pointed tip, you arduously turn and turn, praying the blade wheel around the top. Once in a while you’d get lucky and complete the task without too much effort, but other times, it didn’t go so well. Stubborn cans and old rusty gears would cause the crank shaft to stick and jam, digging into the sides of your thumb and index finger with every twist forward. OPEN, OPEN, OPEN. There’s a sauce recipe I used to make as a teenager which required almost a dozen cans of various ingredients. I can still feel my wrist burning from the chore.
Take the manual can opener experience and relate it to people in your life you’ve tried to extract information from. UGH! Exasperation at its worst!
You attempt to pry their lid open, trying to get on the inside to evaluate the contents…to understand…to help, only to be left clueless with the person still sealed up tight.
When I say extract information, I’m not referring to trying to get someone to spill the beans on top secret information or putting your nose where it doesn’t belong. I’m speaking to people in your life who you deeply care about and would genuinely like to help – family and friends who clearly have an issue or a need. You’d love to give them a hand, if you could only get them to share and open up.
Granted, some people are just more open than others; more willing to share. Heck, there are some you wish wouldn’t share quite so much! But there are others, who no matter how hard you try, regardless of what questions you ask, either cannot or will not let you in. It can be maddening.
The frustration isn’t born from anger; it’s from being concerned and feeling helpless.
Why should you worry? Why should it bother you? It’s not your fault if someone doesn’t want your help. While that may be true, it’s difficult to walk away and ignore the fact that someone you love is hurting or in need.
How can you help if you don’t know exactly what’s wrong?
- Ask open ended questions to initiate conversation
- Share personal experiences which you feel may be relevant
- Avoid playing guessing games
- Don’t pursue or badger
- Offer nonjudgmental, unconditional love and support
- Be patient
- Provide suggestions and resources for additional help
If all else fails, reassure that you will always be there and, as hard as it may be, TAKE A STEP BACK.
There’s only so much you can do with an unwilling participant. Forcing a conversation and playing human can opener won’t solve anything. Unfortunately, there are no fancy electric models suitable for use on people! (Boy, wouldn’t THAT come in handy?!)
Aside from a life threatening situation which requires immediate professional intervention, sometimes the most beneficial course of action is inaction. There are tough love times when giving your friend or family member space and allowing them the opportunity to soul search and grow through their circumstances is the best thing you can do for them.
I’ve had enough of these instances to know there are times I’m clearly called to help, but others where I might be ‘just’ the seed planter or ‘only’ the prayer warrior, important roles in and of themselves. My main objective, though, is to ensure people know they can count on me and I’ll always be there for them when and if they’re ever ready.
Do you have a human can opener story? I’d love to hear it! Please comment below!