Lower the Ladder and Only Lift Up

While adding new shelf paper in our new rental house there was a knock at the door. When I opened the door I was greeted by a congenial and intelligent man who expressed his need for help. He had just moved in with his family down the street and he did not yet have a job. In Alabama, where he used to live, he worked for a landscaping company. Without contacts, he explained, he was having a difficult time getting hired onto a crew near his new home. He asked if he could do any work for me in my yard to raise money for his family. As we walked around the back of my new house, he started to call off the names of the different plants he passed and talked about what I might do if I were to make a change to the landscaping. Back home he had graduated from technical school with a specialty in horticulture. “When I first got there,” he explained “I didn’t even know where carrots came from. I thought they grew from a tree! Now I know the Latin names for all of these,” he said, pointing around the yard.

If you have ever heard me talk about my philosophy for intentional encounters, you know that I always attempt to Lower the Ladder and Only Lift Up. This is how I live life and is now the working title for a book I am writing.

Lowering the ladder means to help someone out of a hole they are in by adding a tool or knowledge that allows them to get out of that hole under their own power. I believe this is an important part of helping people not become enabled into defeatist behaviors and allows them to feel a sense of accomplishment even though they did receive help getting there.

Only Lifting Up means that in every encounter where a need is discovered you are helping that person reach a new level in their life in a way that does not put you in a bad place yourself. If you cannot help the person, then the alternative is to avoid pushing them down by instilling in the conversation a sense of hope and retained dignity.

Most people’s first impulse would be to give him a few dollars and send him on his way. I do not see this as really helpful and could inadvertently push him down. As we walked around the yard, I asked him questions about his sudden move from Alabama to Georgia. I asked more about his mother who was ill and his daughter’s epilepsy. I listened closely to see if I could identify what would act as the ladder in his particular situation. Then I heard it. If he were able to get his hands on a lawn mower, he could get started mowing lawns and could work his way out of his hole under his own power.

Now a lawn mower is not an overly expensive item, but it is still more than I can afford, having just gotten into this new house and put down deposits and paid for household items. So I started to look around on Facebook marketplace for an affordable used lawnmower. I am also going to put up information on facebook about this story and see who would be willing to donate a few dollars to help him get a lawnmower.

My goal in the whole situation is to see him get to a new level in his life and be able to make a real difference in helping his family. If the lawnmower is the answer then it is time to get the man a lawnmower.

 Photo by Simone Acquaroli on Unsplash