We tend to ask for help when (a) what we need help with is not a big deal, and (b) when we desperately need help with something, often at times when we should have asked long ago. The fact that we often don’t ask for help when we find ourselves in the middle of these two extremes robs us of a lot of good opportunities to help and be helped. It creates unfortunate negative associations with help, including feelings of superiority versus inferiority, and also a thinking that a request for meaningful help is usually associated with neediness and desperation.
This shouldn’t be the case. When help is genuine – given from a place of wanting to see somebody free of troubles – it’s most often a rewarding experience for everyone involved, helper and helped. And I’d like to talk about that for a bit: the importance of helping and being helped, by itself, regardless of the nature of the help given or received.
Giving and receiving is a two-way act
As with so many things, a black-and-white dichotomy often develops around giving and receiving – as though when somebody is helped, the helper has only given and the person helped has only received. Hopefully, this is not the case most of the time! When such an interaction takes place, in which the receiver of help [feels like s/he] has nothing to give, it tends to be a pretty desperate situation, if you think about it. Such desperation should ideally be something rare, a once-in-a-blue-moon event at most – but when help in a non-desperate situation is not available, the amount of times that somebody is in dire need of help goes up significantly. This cycle of no-help-until-you’re-screaming-for-it makes us see help in a much more negative light, decreasing the chances that we will engage in giving and receiving help more often – which is what would break the cycle.
In reality, the vast majority of cases in which help is given and received are two-way acts. The giver does indeed receive something – even if it’s just a positive sense of contribution. Feeling that you have contributed is a wonderful gift! The receiver can help the giver feel such positive feelings, because sometimes, when one is on the receiving end of some help, it takes a bit of trust: will this help be given conditionally? Does the person helping me expect something from me or have some ulterior goal? Is this really help, or is it a trap?
You are much more likely to accept help if you feel that the person giving it genuinely offers you this help unconditionally, for your benefit alone as opposed to their own gain. Giving can and should involve benefit to both sides – but giving really counts when the giver does it despite not being guaranteed to benefit him/herself from it. So, as a receiver of help, you often have the power to give your trust in the person giving to you – and when somebody does give help solely for the goal of bettering the person they help, this feeling of trust can be a mighty nice reward for them. 🙂
The best friendships usually have an element of this constant give and take to them. The trust that is developed over time – when both giving to and receiving from a particular person feels good – allows both people to both be honest around each other about their vulnerabilities. It also allows them to have a sense of relaxation and predictability regarding how such interactions will turn out – thus they are more likely to engage in giving and asking for help, at least when it comes to each other.
There is a wonderful poem about how giving and receiving are inseparably intertwined. I found it while reading Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg. It is by Ruth Bebermeyer:
I never feel more given to
than when you take from me —
when you understand the joy I feel
giving to you.
And you know my giving isn’t done
to put you in my debt,
but because I want to live the love
I feel for you.
To receive with grace
may be the greatest giving.
There’s no way I can separate
When you give to me,
I give you my receiving.
When you take from me, I feel so
Song “Given To” (1978) by Ruth Bebermeyer from the album, Given To.
When giving and receiving help goes bad
We all know at least one of those people who likes to give, but from whom we don’t like to receive. You know – that kind of people you never want to accept something from, because you know that there’s always some assumption or rider attached to what they give. Their “gift” to you is, in reality, a burden you will have to bear; you cannot receive from them without them making an assumption that you now owe something to them.
And then, there are those that are unable to “just” receive, without thinking of the act of receiving in terms of a promise or statement. If you give to them, beware; your generosity may be taken as if it were an insult to them, or even a statement of looming obligation to you. Rather than the receiver being happier, they become more nervous and insecure. That’s not the feelings we set out to inspire when we give.
Frankly – this kind of pseudo-giving really ruins a lot of opportunities we might otherwise take to be generous. Some think that we don’t give as much as we should because the world is dangerous, and you will be taken advantage of – but I think the biggest reason why so many people don’t do more giving is because there is so much giving and receiving that is done in a twisted fashion that these concepts gets pretty fucked up for a lot of people. Anything, even the most pleasurable, freeing activity, can be ruined if it is associated in somebody’s mind with something distasteful.
Help is neither an assumption, nor a statement
Help is just help. It has meaning when somebody’s way becomes easier as a result. We have the power to strip the concept of help away from these negative conditional views of help I was just speaking of:
- by giving help unconditionally
- by making as sure as possible that our help really will be of help to the person receiving it before giving it
- by asking for help more often – even when we don’t need it.
That last one is key: ask for help more often, even when you don’t need it. Why? Because this demonstrates actively, to those that interact with you, that you are comfortable with the concept of help. That with you, giving and receiving help will not be used as currency to judge your worth versus the other person’s worth, or who is obligated to whom. It will then become easier, for both you and those that know you, to ask for help in that middleground between “could you help me, I forgot my pen, you got one handy?” and “please, please help me, I’m desperate!”
That middleground is big. There are sooooooo many situations in which we need to ask for help, but out of both pride and fear of the strings often attached to help, we don’t. If you don’t want to be lonely in life, this is a very key thing to work on: opening the doors of giving and receiving help. They open so many other doors for you later on.