Talking trolleys that point out bargains, an automated checkout counter and chattering cleaning robots have failed to impress shoppers at the Billa supermarket in Purkersdorf, Austria. The experiment ended abruptly following a stream of complaints about the grating electronic voices.
Clearly this attempt to be helpful and encouraging to shoppers went too far. One shopper commented that she left her husband at home when she shopped because ‘he doesn't know what he's talking about when I go around the aisles’ and she didn’t need ‘a four-wheeled version of him’.
Our attempts to help others can also similarly get it wrong. There is a delicate balance between offering too much advice and not being attentive enough. We want to respect the other person’s independence but also sometimes feel that suggestions, advice or practical help might prevent a mistake being made or our friend feeling unsupported.
When approached by a blind man, Jesus made a point of asking him what it was he wanted from him. (Mark 10.46-52). But such a straightforward approach may not be appropriate if the person doesn’t really know what they want, or can’t or won’t say. There’s a certain intuitive awareness of what would be helpful, and what would not, that needs to come into play. It will be fed by our knowledge of the person we’re trying to help, and of the situation they are in, but will come from somewhere deeper within us. Sometimes we’ll get it right and sometimes it’s worth the risk we might get it wrong.
Let’s today be grateful for opportunities to help others and for that inner awareness and divine inspiration that makes us much more likely to get it right than any ‘grating electronic voice’.
The Wife Carrying World Championships took place this weekend in Sonkajärvi, Finland. This annual event involves an arduous men's race over 250 metres of obstacles, including a water jump. Each competitor has to carry his wife (or "cohabitant living in a marriage-like relationship") on his back, in order to win her weight in beer. A 15-second penalty is incurred should she be dropped during the course of the race.
Many would classify such an event as politically incorrect, not least many women who might claim that it is much more often they who have to carry their husbands emotionally. But carrying someone, or being carried, through particularly difficult periods of life, is something people of both sexes experience. It is a valuable way in which friends and spouses can support each other and there is something very moving about being able to trust someone not to drop you when the obstacles you face seem more than you can surmount by yourself.
There might be some debate about which was the more uncomfortable position in the race, carrier or carried. There’s a difference too, in life, between those who feel much happier being carried and those only see themselves as carriers. Perhaps today we might consider where we come in the spectrum. We might need to redress the balance in our lives by being more willing to stand on our own feet; or we may need to be more willing to trust those close us to support us.
The Scottish village of Lost is to change its name. Lost is the Celtic word for Inn but an inn’s traditional welcome is not what’s offered to the souvenir hunters who keep stealing its road signs. Seven have gone in the last five years.
“It’s not just the cost of replacing the signs,” said the local councillor, “deliveries get lost because they’ve got no idea where ‘Lost’ is, and its very confusing”. Without the signs, it appears, people get to Lost without even knowing they’ve found it.
Being lost is confusing and unpleasant, emotionally as well as literally. Most of us have had the experience, in relation to something specific or just generally in life, that we don’t know which way to turn. Sometimes it’s a struggle we keep to ourselves, whereas often the only way out is to seek help from someone who does know where they are. It is not always easy to recognise that we are lost and seek that kind of help. The tendency is to keep going round in circles on the assumption that we will eventually find our own way out of the problem.
Next time all the signs are that we’ve reached ‘lost’, we would do well to acknowledge it sooner rather than later. Then we can seek the support we need. We may well find the response to such requests is more like the welcome and warmth conjured up by the Celtic meaning of ‘Lost’ than the anxiety and isolation with which we associate the word today.
Today Rosie Stancer and Fiona Thornewill fly together to Chile and from there to Hercules Point on the edge of Antarctica. There they will separate and the race is on to be the first British woman to travel alone and unaided to the South Pole. Until the summer, they were each unaware that the other would also be making the attempt. Rosie was asked how she felt about the fact that there was competition. “It’ll be reassuring to know that another woman is also out there on her own.”
There is always something reassuring about discovering that someone else is going through the same kind of experience as you are. It is of course never exactly the same but knowing that you are not alone in what’s happening to you is a source of comfort.
Let’s today be grateful for when such moments of solidarity have happened to us; and if we are feeling isolated in some particular area of our experience just now, let’s remember that at this very moment, even if we don’t know them, there are others going through something very similar to what we are experiencing.