Tom Shakespeare

What do you do when people assist you, in ways which are not to your liking? I have been thinking about this because my neighbour sadly died of cancer last month. He was a very helpful person, as I learned 15 years ago, when I was living alone and confined to bed for six months with back problems. Many evenings, his family would send over a bowl of whatever food they were eating for me to share. The trouble was, they were vegetarians who liked bland food, and I am an omnivore who loves spicy food.

It’s the same in my workplace. Every morning, my office mate makes me a cup of tea. That’s helpful, particularly as the kitchenette is upstairs and carrying cups is very hard when you are in a wheelchair. But the tea he makes is weak and milky, whereas I like my tea strong.

Yes, I know, I should just tell him. But’s not so easy to give feedback when you are depending on the generosity of others. If I was paying for food or drink in a café, I would complain, or I would not eat there again. If it was my girlfriend, I would feel bold enough to give gentle feedback on my likes and dislikes. But there is something about the lack of reciprocity with the neighbour or colleague that makes me keep quiet and accept what is offered, without question or correction.

I was glad that when my neighbour was ill, I was able to repay his previous generosity by helping him and his wife in turn. We had several dinners together in the year before his death. Now he is gone, I will always remember his kindness. But I am still left puzzling over how people can give help in ways which are open to feedback and improvement.