It sounded like a strange request on the phone.

“Malcolm, can you ask my Support Team volunteers not to bring me any more green bean casserole to my house?” said the young man on the other end of the phone who was a patient at our clinic.

“Sure Mike, that’s not a problem. Can you tell me why?”
“Well, the truth is,” he confessed, “I hate green bean casserole. But several members of my volunteer team love to cook it. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings so when they bring green bean casserole, I smile and say thank you. After they leave, I throw it away, wash the dish, and return it to them. I don’t think this is how it’s supposed to work, is it?”
I assured him that no one wanted to do something for him that he didn’t want. Besides, he was gonna starve to death if we kept doing it this way!
I have come to call this the “Green Bean Casserole Rule.” Sometimes a person loves to do a particular thing so much for someone else, he or she will just do it without asking the recipient. And then be disappointed when they are not grateful!
Our teams have taught me this important principle when I try to help: “If you have something to offer, ask if he or she would like it (a meal, a visit, etc.). And if the answer is yes, to ask the question when would be a good day or time to receive it?” If the answer is no, let it go, and look for other opportunities that may arise later.

They have also taught me when you are trying to help, the more specific the offer is of what you would like to do, the more likely the acceptance. The more general the offer, the more likely the answer will be no thanks.

I am learning that the Green Bean Casserole Rule applies to situations beyond cooking meals. We may see a need and want to fix whatever it is. But taking your cues from the friend in regards to meeting that need is the key.

So the next time I start to do something for a patient of ours, or a friend, I am going to try to remember the Green Bean Casserole Rule. Respecting the recipient’s right to have a say in the matter is important.

And during a crisis, it may be all he or she has left.