Can I help you with that? – a jar top, a sack of groceries, a heavy box. It catches me off guard – I’m always surprised to find it’s directed toward me. I’ve always been the helper, not the one who needed it.
I am more than grateful for the many wonderful helpers that make my very comfortable life possible. Professional and personal, family and friends, neighbors, and of course, the furry ones. It’s just that I’ve always resisted asking for help – preferring to correct mistakes over taking directions, hiding my troubles behind a practiced smile. Insisting I’m “just fine” while my insides are screaming for help. Mind you, I’d run out in front of traffic to help someone else…I’m thinking I’m not alone here.
I was taught from an early age to help others. And I know well the joy it brings. But I was not taught how to be helped. It was deep in my family’s psyche, in our very blood; that barring natural disasters or
catastrophic disease, we don’t take help. It follows then, that if you need help, there’s something wrong with you – you’re lazy, you’re not very smart; you’re weak and needy. And you’re definitely not one of us.
Not only was this curious concept fundamental to my family and my community, it was deeply embedded in twentieth century American culture; likely tracing to our pioneer days when survival really did belong to the fittest.
Whatever the reason, I don’t remember any discussion in my family, community, school..anywhere, anytime – about how and when to ask for help. Community support services in our society largely developed in the late 20th century. For example, tutoring, a popular way to gain a competitive edge nowadays, was originally remedial, and therefore, to be avoided. Treatment centers were non-existent. Pre-Oprah, family problems were suffered in silence. And therapy dogs? PTSD? Seriously?
Thankfully, It’s easier for me than for my mother; certainly than for my grandmother, to ask for help. But in spite of our relaxed attitudes toward human vulnerability, I still don’t hear much about receiving help
I’m pretty much making it up as I go. Learning to simply say “Thank You” without a litany of qualifiers and a compulsion to repay. To ask for help but not be crushed by a negative response. Learning to be the source of someone else’s joy of giving.
Like any art form, I’m learning, gracious receiving requires patient, persistent practice. Habits of a lifetime will not go quietly.