Saturday, August 16, 2014

Being able to accept help

One of the hardest lessons in life is learning to accept help.  I think until a person learns to do that, they can't really give back in the spirit of true generosity.
One of the greatest joys in life is being in a position where you have something that other people want.  It could be that you have a beautiful singing voice or a strong intellect.  Or, when someone is suffering, you have medical training and can make them feel better.  It IS validating to be able to offer something others value.
We know that our talents are valued because people come back for more or pay money for our efforts.  There is some kind of exchange...even if it is only applause. 
Sometimes, what we have to offer is very humble.  I'm thinking of people washing dishes at a community supper or baking a dessert for a meeting.  It might be a transitory gift...the dessert will be consumed and the dishes will be dirtied again at the next supper.  The work leaves no "legacy" except for the good feelings of a single night and the friendships that develop from working together.
I've met some of the most extraordinary people volunteering at these humble events.  Generals and doctors, poets and professors, artists and writers, Peace Corps volunteers and politicians all seem to do their share of humble jobs with great relish and good spirit.
For me, 90% of the enjoyment in life is about who is sharing it with me.   Rich or poor, talented or not, the quality of our life and our happiness is mostly determined by the people who surround us and how we feel about them.
When I attended New Hampshire Leadership, I remember hearing about a woman with multiple disabilities who summed it up perfectly for me, "I can live without vision and hearing.  I can live without arms or legs.  I can't live without friends."

When you are in the position of really, honestly needing help from others, it can have the opposite effect on your spirit.  Now, you are the person who wants something others have, and they don't value what you have to offer in exchange.  It can make you feel diminished and devalued.  You feel vulnerable.
The experience I had of this that stands out most clearly in my mind and, admittedly, is the least "personal" of the many times in my life when I needed help, was when I was a young airman assigned to the 509th Refueling Squadron at Pease Air Force Base in the 1970s.
I weighed about 125 pounds.  The equipment I worked with weighed anywhere from a few pounds to 130 pounds.  At that time, any equipment over 40 pounds was considered a "two man carry."  I could easily lift 40 pounds; so it shouldn't have posed any problem for me to do my job.
Unfortunately, the shops were often short staffed and overworked; so many of the guys ignored the weight limit and would carry equipment weighing up to 90 pounds by themselves.  The guy who trained me had already had one hernia operation by the time I came along.
There were some very nice guys in the shops and when they would see me struggling to move equipment from the bench to a cart to go out to the flight line, they would hurry over and give me a hand.  I appreciated it from the bottom of my heart, but I also felt a little "diminished" by always being the one who needed help.
And that is where things got tricky.
All through tech school, I had a few instructors who told me I wouldn't be able to do the job.  Academically, I was at the top of the class, but these instructors thought I was just too small.  But, I would look around and see  a few guys who weren't necessarily much bigger than I was.  I would think to myself, that the Air Force didn't assign us to be electronic technicians because we were big and burly.  They picked us for that job because we were smart.
So, how to react?  Should I complain that people were violating the rules for weight limits?  I was pretty sure that "playing the victim" wasn't the way to go.  I might "win the battle, but lose the war."
And, I didn't want to seem ungrateful for the obvious kindness my colleagues were showing me.
My boss's hernia got me thinking.  Although these guys could lift this heavy equipment, they were also hurting themselves in the process.   And while some of the guys rushed over to help me; they weren't rushing over to help each other.
So, I started doing it.
True, I couldn't lift it for them; but I could help carry the load.  When any of them protested that they could do it themselves I would tell them that they were doing me a favor by letting me help because then I wouldn't feel so bad when they had to help me.
It all worked out perfectly.  I was much happier in my work and I think the guys got a big kick out of me.  They earned my gratitude twice over; once for helping me and a second time for allowing me to help them.  I think I was a pretty decent technician too.  It would have been a shame to have missed out on the fun of doing all the things I was good at because I was feeling bad about the one thing I really couldn't do by myself.
I sometimes think how different it would have been if I refused the help and hurt myself or had to quit.
Not everything in life has to be "quid pro quo."  Sometimes, we just pay it forward in gratitude for the many times others helped us and sometimes we have to be humble enough to accept the help we need so we can get to a place where we can give too.

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