We often hear in the news today that people are more isolated and that community spirit is something of the past. People often blame overpopulation, the rise of crime and the classic – social media.
However, while all of these obviously important, I have another suggestion. It is my belief that we have simply stopped reaching out for help. That may seem strange. The idea of the breakdown of community because we don’t ask for help is not a traditional idea. However community has been supporting each other, helping each other since the dawn of time.
We know from research that our long gone ancestors lived as tribes. And why? Because with one pair of hands we simply could not do everything we needed to survive. We needed both hunter and gatherers. As we developed farming we needed a community to bring the harvest in. Imagine trying to build a house alone, it would be near on impossible. Not to mention work would go a lot slower if you had to keep stopping to make your own cups of tea!
So why is it today are we has such as issue reaching out for help?
Garret Keizer, author of “Help: The Original Human Dilemma” (HarperCollins, 2004) said
“There is a tendency to act as if it’s a deficiency,”. The most common factor why people don’t like to ask for help today is that we are either worried about people judging them or because we feel incompetent if we can’t do it alone. Another reason is that we often move away from our established communities and we stop making new friends. Are the old classic is that we are too proud.
The challenge is that seeing asking for help as somehow making us less or being seen as less, is a destructive pathway. At work it can lead to us not getting that promotion because we don’t get any better at what we do. At home it can lead to building us feelings of resentment and frustration which can in turn lead to the breakdown of a relationship. At school we might fail exams because we didn’t want to explain that we didn’t understand. And in extreme cases it can lead to drastic consequences of self harm when we don’t reach out in times of extreme psychological demise. Just think back for a moment. There will be a negative situation in your past that could have been easily solved just by asking for help.
I am lucky in that I am not a person who has difficulty in asking for help. Having moved countless times in my adult life, having lived on the streets a few times and now living in a completely different country leaving my communities behind and building a new one has become one of the most important tools I have in my arsenal for helping me get the best out of life.
Nancy Astor once said “I have always relied of the kindness of strangers” and I adopted it as my mantra at an early age. I have been so lucky to have met so many amazing people who have helped me in one way or another throughout my life. And I am forever grateful. As I write I am awaiting a wonderful team of 18 amazing people who are coming to help us this weekend dig out our vegetable garden and help us manage the huge garden we have that we simply cannot manage on our own. (We in turn are feeding and watering them and giving them the opportunity to learn to plant dye.) However, I wouldn’t have their help if I hadn’t searched for the people and simply asked.
The most important thing I have learnt about asking is not only that if you don’t ask, you don’t get (another of my Mum’s pearls of wisdom) but that if you as you also have to give. Many of my clients who struggle with asking for help forget that people do actually like to help people. It is one of the bonuses of giving help. People like to feel needed. They also like to feel appreciated. The thank you note, the return favor or the little surprise gift goes a long way to building the bonds of community and friendship. If give as well as asking, it makes the ask easier and the results so much more powerful.
However, I do realised that many of you do not find this as easy as I do. And although you haven’t asked for my help I would like to do just that and give you a few tips to help you get started:
- Identify what help you need. And then look at your network and find out who is best suited for the job. If you have to keep off your feet would it be best to ask your scatty best friend or your neatfreak sister to help you clean the house. Does the person you are asking have the life experience and the skills for the job?
- Have a think about how you could help them. Don’t offer it as a trade when you ask for their help but keeping it there in the back of your mind and look for an opportunity to give back when you can.
- Don’t forget to rely less on the obvious people. When seeking a doctor, for example, do not just ask your friends, but go to a nearby gym and ask who the athletes see. Personally whenever I move to a new place I always visit the tourist information. They always seem to be able to help if others can’t when finding the info I need.
- When asking be straightforward and honest. Ask in specific terms.
- Bypass phone calls or e-mail messages if at all possible and make your request in person.
- Don’t feel bad if they can’t help. It’s not personal (99% of the time) the other person just can’t help you right now. Maybe they will know someone who can.
- Say thank you when the agreement is struck, when the need has been met and when you next see the person who helped you.
- Look for opportunities to help other people, not just the ones who have helped you. Paying it forward is a great way to spread the love around. I was lucky enough at one point in my life to have a friend who emptied her cupboards of all food she didn’t need when she found out I didn’t have enough money for food. 10 years later I was able to help somebody else in a similar situation. What goes around comes around.
Helping each other out is a great way to build community. Communal success is a team building and bonding experience. When we all roll up our sleeves and pitch in the accomplishments are shared. So weather its a study group, a project with a deadline that seems overwhelming, a mental health issue that is overwhelming or simply building a garden; when you reach out for help you are also allowing people the opportunity to share in your success. You are not just asking you are also giving!
Have a great weekend <3