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5 Jul
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Should I Give To Shelter… Or Do Something More Interesting Instead

I was walking through St Helens town centre yesterday afternoon, on my way to meet a friend for a coffee and a chat. My arrival at the meeting place, only a minute late, was simultaneous with being accosted by a very attractive young lady wearing a red top with a Shelter logo on it. She also had around her neck one of those plastic wallet id card thingies on a ribbon – and we all know that wearing one of those in a shopping centre makes you official and, therefore, important.

She started off in typical salesman, or should I be politically correct and say salesperson, fashion, being very nice asking about me and setting a pleasant tone to an encounter with a total stranger who was clearly after my money. My usual response to this kind of situation is to cut to the chase so I asked her what she was selling. I was reassured that nothing was being sold (this is always a lie, because if they didn’t want something from you they wouldn’t be talking to total strangers). I explained that I was meeting someone and already late. A promise to get to the point was made and immediately broken.

After being asked if I had heard of Shelter (a well-known organisation that helps the homeless), which I had, she asked me if I agreed that every child needs a home.

An innocuous no-brainer, it seems.

But, unfortunately for her, not to me.

You see I immediately had a couple of problems even before I attempted to answer. I don’t like loaded questions. When someone asks me what I consider to be a serious question, for which they are genuinely seeking my opinion, I like to think deeply about it to ensure that I don’t provide a valueless knee-jerk response. Because of my prior appointment, my attention was split because part of me was thinking about the meeting that I was getting later for, and part of me wanted to respond.

But back to the loaded question for a minute. There is a sales technique, promoted in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) called the Yes Set. It works on the basis that the more you do something the more likely you are to do it again. So when a salesman (I’ve decided I don’t care about being politically correct) starts talking to a prospect, a prospect that he has found some information about, he will ask a series of questions to which the only answer is yes. This is usually after a little bit of rapport-building chit chat enquiring about health, enjoying the weather, what are you up to, sort of stuff. Once the prospect starts giving signals of comfort the salesman moves on to the ‘Yes Set’. Your name is Fred… waits for a yes, you live at this address… waits for a yes, your date of birth is… waits for yes, and whatever other appropriate questions that the answer has to be a ‘yes’ to.

The theory is that at the end of this series of yeses comes “and would you like to put your signature here” for this thing you don’t want and don’t need but I get lots of commission for. If this is done skilfully most people sign without even realising what they’ve done. And that’s because they were unconscious for most of the process. By unconscious I mean not fully aware and not fully present in the moment.

Loaded questions are questions for which there is only one answer and the questioner already knows what the answer is. Closed questions are questions for which the answer is yes or no. I was being asked a loaded closed question. I don’t like being asked loaded questions under the guise of friendliness and curiosity. I do like being asked questions for which the questioner genuinely would like either an answer, or at least to hear my opinion.

So, with the time pressure that I was applying to myself, I didn’t allow myself time to search for a reasoned answer and simply responded honestly that I didn’t know the answer to that question.

This was not the correct response.

When you fail to give the correct response to a loaded question you disrupt the sales flow, because then, rather than following a mental or written script, the seller has to actually think on their feet and respond from their genuine self. This is something most of them, in my experience, fail at miserably.

At this point my friend walked up to us, the two of them exchanged compliments about hair colour and eye make up and my friend started to walk off with me as though the ShelterLady didn’t exist. At this point she had visions of losing the Prospect she had carefully cultivated and this time really did get straight to the point. The point was effectively give me access to your bank account on a monthly basis forever.

I said no sorry I can’t help and walked away with my friend.

But I’d been asked a question that I hadn’t satisfactorily answered and I couldn’t let it go. I mean it’s such a good loaded question – do you agree that every child needs a home? Apart from my natural resistance to people who just want me to give them money – without my having the opportunity to do some research and find out if the work they are doing is something I feel comfortable about supporting – I felt there was something important here.

I mean I like me. I think I’m a decent guy. My work is helping people and freeing them up so they can live satisfying and peaceful lives. So why couldn’t I just agree with something so obvious. I’m a great fan of ‘Know Thyself’ so it was important for me to find out.

Once we were sitting comfortably, and supplied with coffee and cake, I started to explain what was going on to my friend when she arrived at the meeting place. I find that sometimes, when I’m looking for something elusive, if I start talking it frees up a part of my mind and the answers just come. So I did. And they did.

I was looking at the question from the wrong end. I was provided with an answer, not a question. Every child needs a home is a solution. The question is ‘what does every child need?’ I could answer that one easily. Every child needs support, encouragement, physical safety & security, to be challenged appropriately, and to feel loved. So the real question becomes ‘is a home the only place a child can receive those things?’

In my work I’ve met many people who were coming to me for help because their home did not provide those things. When a home doesn’t provide those things then we usually end up with various degrees of psychological problems – anything from feeling a little insecure to schizophrenia. In the majority of cases it doesn’t seriously screw up our lives, but it does make it less than it could be; and in some instances it seriously screws people up.

The use of the word home in the question was I believe, deliberately emotive. A home is not a house.  A home is not even a roof. But home has implications and associations like family and love. I don’t even believe that a home is just a place where you live. But that’s what home means to me. It may not mean that to you. So the question itself becomes unanswerable without a definition of the word home.

I live on my own. My house is most definitely my home. It’s also my place of work. The only love in it is the love that I bring to it, or the love that arrives when family and friends visit. It’s the same for the support and encouragement. A home does not provide those – people do.

What a child needs is people around him, or her, who love, support, encourage, guide, teach lovingly, challenge safely, and provide a place of security to retreat to in times of need.

I don’t know about you, but I know quite a few homes that aren’t that.

Don’t forget to share your thoughts below.


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