Service of “Can I Do Anything For You?”

January 29th, 2024

Categories: Health, Help, Neighbors, Passivity, Thinking of Others, Thoughtless Behavior, Throwaway Comment, Unaware, Uncaring, Unconscious

When my friend suggested the idea for this post so many other examples popped into my head.

She texted, “‘Can I do anything for you?’ coming from friends seems to be a throwaway comment when someone is sick or recovering from surgery–empty words when they do nothing if there is not anything you need immediately.”

Such friends, especially neighbors, remind me of a guest firmly planted in his/her chair at the dinner table who asks, “Need any help?” and doesn’t budge to clear so much as a matchstick. [I know: Some don’t want help. I’m not talking about them.]

My friend recalled being extremely ill when she was young with an infant at home and too shy, when posed that question, to ask for help which, she thinks, is why she’s especially sensitive when temporarily disabled these days. She told an able-bodied dog walking neighbor in her apartment building who joined the “can I do anything?” chorus that she craved a cupcake from a bakery down the street, as a test. She really didn’t need one.

She wrote: “I don’t mean to sound like I am keeping score but like you I am always thinking about what I can do for others -not expecting something in return. But why ask that question if you don’t really mean it? The locals also stopped even checking in!”

I know what she means. When my broken foot was at first ensconced in a boot, I wasn’t supposed to walk more than three blocks and I exceeded that restriction just to get to the office. So once there, I didn’t move much. The only person who ever asked if I needed anything when she’d head out for lunch or to run an errand was a young temp assistant. Were my office neighbors afraid I’d stiff them the cost of a soda or sandwich or were they simply oblivious?

Not all neighbors are passive, insensitive, or unconscious. This happened to the parents of another friend. They had recently moved to an apartment in Florida from their home in upstate New York when her dad became terminally ill. A neighbor would ring her bell on the way to a grocery store asking for her list. And they knew the schedule she followed to rotate her husband’s position in bed so he wouldn’t get bedsores. She was petite and needed help. One of the neighbors was at her door several times every day, on the dot, without being asked.

Why do we utter “can I do anything for you?” the way we say, “how are you?” without listening to the answer or planning to address the response with action?

15 Responses to “Service of “Can I Do Anything For You?””

  1. ASK Said:

    Perhaps many people say it because THEY want to feel good…

  2. Martha Tepper Takayama Takayama Said:

    I am often troubled confused and more significantly saddened by the question this post asks. I find it dreadful when people either show absolutely no concern for anyone else’s wellbeing or worse throw out those meaningless platitudes of “Can I do anything for you?”
    . “Do you need anything?” or “Just let me know….” I wish they would save themselves the bad behavior of such obviously meaningless platitudes and save me the pain of having to process their emptiness and insincerity. I guess those who use those phrases just do so automatically thinking they are being appealing or looking nice! I do not like to depend on others or ask for assistance that will almost certainly not be proffered. I had an aunt
    (for a while, pre-divorce) who always used to visit my family at dinner, pretending she wanted to see her darling nieces because she couldn’t or wouldn’t cook. She would then either ask if she could help or even worse, while remaining seated, make a meaningless gesture with her hands as if threatening to get up to help while remaining locked in her seat. It was horrific!
    As an adult and more recently as a senior citizen I appalled not only by the “Can I do anything for you?” fakes as I am by those who don’t have the lease bit of concern for whether “friends”. acquaintances or others might possibly appreciate being asked the question with the intent of assisting even in a small way. However, they forget that any such situation could or might even be reversed and then……

  3. Loretta Adams Said:

    Loretta on Facebook: ❤️ I find most people who say that really would do whatever they were asked, …if they were asked. I have to say that in the past few years I was the recipient of beautiful, thoughtful gestures…some even from your Eddie or G. Without asking, driveway plowed, flowers left at my back door, Hershey bars mysteriously delivered (my favorite Candy), some homemade food delivered, …spontaneous knock on the door of “I just dropped by to say hello”. I always say I am blessed, and now it is time to pay it forward. ❤️

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:



  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    There are many like your aunt!

    Once I helped a neighbor and it backfired. I didn’t know she was in the early stages of dimentia. I used to walk down the stairs to the lobby. One day she popped her head out of her apartment and asked if I’d pick her up a few things at the grocery store. Sure said I. On my return she said she’d not asked for many of the items. Soon I got a call from her lawyer asking me if I’d do her grocery shopping for which I’d be paid. Seeing agita written all over it—and I wouldn’t have expected a penny except to be reimbursed for the purchases—I declined.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You are blessed and I suspect that you have done the same many times for others already.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    Not everyone is able to rush out and help a friend in difficult circumstances, so why offer to do the impossible? Why promise what one is unable to deliver?

  8. Loretta Adams Said:

    Loretta on Facebook: and I am sure the same is true about you!

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Aw shucks. It is even more true of the friend who inspired the post and a woman who wrote a comment on the blog. They are selfless and generous. Yet they have experienced the empty words. And it’s not a NYC thing. The blog comment came from New England.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Precisely. But there is always something a person can do. Text something to make the person smile, mail a card, say when you will be free to do something specific.

  11. Hussein Ahman Uttah Said:

    There is a close cousin of this comment which I find ultra-infuriating: When talking to some support line, after a call lasting an hour and a half, when you have concluded answering the question, talked every point to death, exhausted all discussion, finished saying goodbye, completely finished speaking and turned your attention to the next thing you have to do:

    SUDDENLY the person at the other end of the line steams in with “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

  12. Deb Wright Said:

    Those are empty words, indeed. When you ask, “is there anything I can do?'” you are putting the responsibility of asking on the person who actually needs some help! I never say those words. If I genuinely want to help someone, I call and say I am bringing over the casserole or some dessert. I have a friend who is house-bound because she broke her foot Christmas Day. I have talked to her, sent a card, and now I know the right thing to do is ask if I may visit her for a few hours. Actions speak.

  13. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You are right. Those words place the onus on the person who may need help to ask for it. What kind of favor is that?

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:


    SO TRUE.

    And when the customer service [an oxymoron most of the time] person has NOT been able to help you at all and the glitch is on the company to fix, your “is there anything else? I can HElp you with” riles.

  15. Martha Tepper Takayama Takayama Said:

    Hussein, You are sooo right! However, even better is the “Have a wonderful day.” (Or rest of your now ruined day or night) Evidently they are so well-trained in parrot fashion that they don’t realize the irony or the absurdity.

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