To help another person. What does “help” actually mean? How does one help someone? Assist? Guide? Be of support? Teach? Counsel? The simple fact: most helpers do not help. We surely intend well, but our efforts fall short. What’s the reason? Well, let us count the ways. We unwittingly work at cross purposes to another’s interests. We fail to consider their true goals and intentions. We do not listen to them long enough. We do not prepare long enough to place ourselves in a position to help them. Our ideas do not rise, conform, and adapt to meet reality. Etc. Here, the skill being described is interpersonal “assistive” intelligence.
Such intelligence we assume we’re born with, surely innate knowledge, until we realize: it’s not. Unrealized, or under-realized, human potential––let’s consider four categories.
Visibly small changes. These are small, readily recognizable improvements. Low hanging fruit, easily picked. These are achieved––reactively, unthinkingly––without too terribly much change, refinement, or adjustment. A common mistake––believing these changes are transformative when in fact they’re trifling, trivial. They’re a starting point, a beginning of sorts, but the process of improvement has just begun.
Visibly large changes. These are large, easily recognizable improvements. A complete restructuring. The difference between a fresh coat of exterior paint and an entirely new construction, the old structure having been demolished, flattened––and newly built from the ground up. Visibly large changes require far more effort in the way of planning, time, and resources. Often others will need to be recruited and organized for such changes to occur.
Invisibly small changes. These are small improvements one cannot see, measure, or detect. Invisibly small changes are the “microcosm”––unnoticeable even with the aid of a microscope. What’s occurring here thrives, flourishes, and lives just beneath the level of perception.
Invisibly large changes. These are large improvements one cannot see, measure, or detect. Invisibly large changes are the “macrocosm”––unnoticeable even when examined from a distance. Again, what’s occurring here thrives, flourishes, and lives just beneath the level of perception.
Invisibly small changes and invisibly large changes––these are areas no one pays much attention to since they cannot be measured, quantified, or detected. We also believe, mistakenly, that since we cannot keep track of them, we should devote to them no time, energy, or attention. Invisibly small changes are the terrain, the ground: on that which we walk. Invisibly large changes are the firmament, the atmosphere: of that which we breath.
“But things are ever grouping themselves according to higher or more interior laws.” ––Ralph Waldo Emerson
So back to the idea of refining one’s “assistive intelligence.” Two questions: How can one help to create invisibly small changes? How can one help to create invisibly large changes? Even with a cursory glance––one’s answers may not conform to expectation. Most proposed answers will fall under the category of visibly large or small changes. To avoid that mistake one approach is simply to ask: what side-effect, corollary, or consequence likely will occur that cannot be seen if we carry out a particular change, alteration, or improvement that we can see.
“Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterdays.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Of course, not all beneficial improvements occur intentionally, based on planning. The thought is to see if change can accidentally reach to, and work to improve, another realm, one just outside of reach. “Of the fifty or hundred systems of philosophy that have been advanced at different times of the world’s history, perhaps the larger number have been, not so much results of historical evolution, as happy thoughts which have accidently occurred to their authors. An idea which has been found interesting and fruitful has been adopted, developed, and forced to yield explanations of all sorts of phenomena…” ––Charles Sanders Pierce. Perhaps another way of thinking about this: to recognize that to actually “help” another is to know your most vital, life-affirming, and valuable changes will likely remain invisible.