(Distinctions are subtleties of language that, when gotten, cause a shift in a belief, behavior, value or attitude.)
To help someone means to step in, as in an auto accident. When you see someone on the pavement, you’re going to go in and help that person, you’re going to touch them, you’re going to turn them over, you’re going to direct traffic, and so on. Usually you help someone after they’re already in trouble.
To assist someone means to guide them but not step over the line and help them out of the predicament. They have to be awake and alive enough to request assistance rather than needing you to jump in and save the day.
Sometimes, we tend to help vs assist because we wish someone had done this for us when we were stuck. But sometimes it is best for the person to not get “help” and instead hit bottom until things get so bad they bounce up and reach for assistance.
Copyright 1995 Steve Straus. All rights reserved.