I remember learning about exponents in math class, about how quickly—how exponentially—small numbers become vast when they are repeatedly multiplied by themselves. I was thinking about this the other day in terms of the concept of help.
Stay with me here.
When I help someone, I meet a need. On the surface, typically, that need is somehow visible or tangible. I lend a friend a tool, I care for their child when they are busy, I run an errand for them when they’re sick, I give them a ride when their car breaks down. These are legitimate, practical needs. I like that I can sometimes meet them when they crop up in my community of neighbors and friends.
But recently I’ve been thinking how helping someone does something more than simply meet a tangible need. Don’t you think so? Because every time I meet someone’s tangible need, I contribute to the greater messaging in their environment. My actions tell them I’m here to support you; we’re in this together; if it’s important to you I’ll make it important to me. The environmental messaging is one of collaboration. And that, I think, is when help starts to multiply exponentially.
When I think back on times when people have gone out of their way for me, it’s clear that their helping hands impacted me far beyond an hour’s or a day’s labor. When my babies were infants there was a woman from our church that I had never met, but she heard about me and decided to help me out. She started to come over once a week, bringing me a meal and offering to watch the babies while I went shopping or took a nap. To be honest, I barely took her up on her offers. I felt uncomfortable leaving the house and risking my babies’ daily schedule getting out of whack. And I was stubbornly averse to sleeping while someone else was in my home. But Mama Deb, whom I came to dub my babies’ “New York Grandma” was a lifeline for me. Her time, wisdom, and care were gifts to me that far surpassed the practical assistance she offered when she walked into my apartment each week. Her help was exponential.
I’ve had people watch my kids, help me pack for a move or unpack at the other end, and bring meals when this struggling cook couldn’t think past serving cold cereal for dinner. The impact these friends have had on me cannot possibly be reduced to a few hours of childcare, an hour of heavy lifting, or a casserole dropped on my front porch. People who have helped me have fed my soul with their generosity. They have addressed an external need and in doing so, have fed an internal hunger. Exponential help from them turns into exponential nourishment for me, the recipient.
What would happen if we all decided to be part of a culture of exponential helping? What if we consciously decided to create environmental messaging that said to our neighbors You matter to me, your family matters to me, and when you are well we all benefit. I want to contribute to your wellness, to feed that internal hunger.
When we occupy environments that communicate support, when we receive environmental messages that tell us we matter to the health of the whole, our whole community benefits. When I know I can call on my neighbor for help and they will eagerly answer the call, I grow stronger, even if I rarely actually call on them. As a parent coach, I am in the business of exponential helping. I can assist someone in managing their schedule, taming the back talk or establishing boundaries around screen time, but what I’m also doing is contributing to their environmental messaging, saying you are capable and competent, ready to meet this challenge.
That’s the kind of message that needs some exponential growth.