Have you been offered help recently, only to refuse automatically with a “No, I’m fine thanks,” “I’m ok, I can manage,” or some similar, knee-jerk reaction?
I sometimes even find myself getting cranky about offers of help, against my will and my better judgement, as if the suggestion that I could use a little help carries with it an implication that I can’t cope on my own.
The very words are telling. “I can manage…” “I’m fine…” Yet nobody said I couldn’t manage, or that I wasn’t fine. They merely offered to help. The best advice we ever received as new parents was “when someone offers you help, take it!!!” And yet I rarely, if ever, managed to put those words into practice. Even when my husband shattered his collarbone and was out of action for weeks on end when our oldest was just 8 months old, I still found it difficult, if not impossible, to accept help from anyone – much less ask for it.
When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody’s help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured,
Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.
The Beatles, Help!
As I get older, I am beginning to recognise that accepting an offer of help can be almost as much a charitable act as the offer itself. When we accept someone’s help we become a little closer to them, and allow them to get a little closer to us. The very acceptance of the offer contains an implicit respect for their skills and abilities. In saying yes, we are also saying “You have something to offer me, and I accept your role in my life.”
In contrast when we say “No,” we are saying “I am independent, I don’t need you, and I don’t want your help.”
Being independent is held up in Western society as the pinnacle of personal achievement. We are proudly independent. We push our children to be independent. Those who are dependent attract pity or even sneers. While I accept the value of being self-reliant, I think we take the concept too far, and isolate ourselves in our eagerness to be seen to be coping.
The old saying “it takes a village to raise a child” doesn’t go far enough. I believe it takes a village to stay sane, to be human – to have a community. In helping each other we create a complex web of interaction and, yes, interdependence, that is far stronger than a single thread standing alone. That web is remarkably sustaining. It can support us in times of trauma, and allow us to support others.
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on
Bill Withers, Lean on me.
Accepting help from someone is not an admission that we can’t cope. It’s a way of building community. It makes it easier for others to ask us for help in the future. My instinct is to wait until I have hit the wall before asking for help. Yet there are no prizes for going it alone. No medals for complete independence. If I accept help in the first place, I know that I am less likely to hit the wall in the long run.
We don’t lose by accepting offers of help. I think we actually lose a lot more by refusing them.