I used to want to help people.
Last year, at the Global Youth Peace Summit, something changed.
My role was counselor to a cabin full of young men 14 to 19. Boys from all walks of life brought together to connect and support each other. It’s as much for the adults as it is for the youth. Everyone goes through major processes during the week.
There was one youth in particular I felt driven to “help.” I could see great potential and possibility and I wanted the week to be amazing for him. The previous year, he came out to the group. I had chills when he talked, and I can still recall that moment like it was yesterday. This year, many of us wanted to see him open up more and know we loved him. We knew he was a gifted ballet dancer. One of his dances would be perfect to share with the morning Sacred Circle. He was shy and humble, though. I wanted to be the best counselor I could be, so I began trying to push him in the direction of what I saw in him. By midweek, I could see it wasn't working. He went from excited and happy to quiet and reserved. I was trying to help and it wasn't helping.
So midway through the week I sat with my teacher Vanessa. I told her where I was at and how it didn’t seem to be working, no matter how much I wanted to help. She listened and reflected. I said I just wanted to help him grow and express himself. She heard me. She held space for my process. Then she asked the most obvious question I wasn’t asking. “Will he grow and express himself without me interfering?”
I thought of an Alan Watts talk I had heard many times. A story of a farm where a boy come in late to dinner. His parents ask “where have you been?” He says “i was outside helping the garden grow.” The next morning the family goes outside to find all the plants dead. They ask the boy what happened. The boy says “I just wanted to help. So I pulled up on every plant to make it grow taller.”
It was so obvious in the story, it was less obvious when it was happening in my own life. I didn't have to try so hard. He didn't need me to help him, just like i didn't need her to help me. She just listened, held space and was curious. No agenda. “Will growth happen without my interfering?” Of course it would! My idea of potential and possibility was getting in the way of letting him be him. Or even letting me be me.
The next day I stopped trying to help him. There was no agenda. I relaxed. I could be myself again. He could be himself. At the end of the day when we checked in, he shared that he had had “one of the best days of my life.”
The next day, he danced.