Help! I Need Somebody! – Asking For Help Without Guilt


What is it about the human psyche that we are so reluctant to ask for help? Even when it is freely and lovingly offered by another, we often only take up the offer when there seems no alternative.

In a society that lauds the attributes of independence, self-sufficiency and resilience, asking for help can be viewed as a sign of weakness. It’s not. Allowing another to help us takes strength in acknowledging when we cannot do it all on our own. It is acceptance that we are not superhuman which is logical and reasonable, not some sort of failure.

Helping each other – including accepting help for ourselves – is what being in community is all about. Mutual support, give and take.

Even when we do accept help, we can feel indebted to the helper, as if we must repay the assistance in some way as soon as possible. This also is not necessary in a community. Help will be given and help will be received when and as it is needed. Help given in a true community is an act of love, not one half of a user-pays transaction.

For everything there is a season and the helper one day may be the one in need the next. But in a healthy, caring relationship, help is not offered with the thought, “and you better help me when I need it”. It is offered simply because we care about the other person and we know, not expect, that the other person would do the same for us. It is a mutual relationship of support.

So, offer help because you want to, ask for help because you need to, and do so in the knowledge that this is community and we are all in this together.



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I do not think it means what you think it means

I was walking past the shops the other day and a woman approaching looked past me and said cheerily, “Hello. How are you, Peter?” The man behind me stopped and said, “Not too good, actually.” The woman smiled awkwardly and hurried into the shop. Peter stood for a moment and then slowly continued on his way.

One of my favourite films is The Princess Bride. One favourite scene (oh, there are so many) is when Inigo has had enough of Vizzini’s use of the word “Inconceivable!” whenever things don’t go quite the way he was expecting. “You keep using that word,” Inigo tells him. “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

We use words all the time that don’t necessarily hold to their true meaning. When something is ‘cool’ it often doesn’t mean that it’s at a lower temperature.

“How are you?” has now become synonymous with “Hello.” We often say it without even realising it’s a question. We certainly don’t expect an answer. Or if we do, we expect a stock standard response. “Good, thanks.” (I had a friend when I was a child whose father would pick on me if I said that. “Are you good? Should I check with your parents?” I soon learned to say, “I’m quite well, thank you.”)

We’ve become so automatic with this phrase that I’ve had people respond when I haven’t even said it. “Hello.” “I’m well, thank you.” Right.

I’m a terrible liar and I would make a hopeless poker player. If my life is not going well, I’m not much good at hiding it. But I’ve learnt to answer most “How are you?” greetings with a pre-prepared response of “I’m okay, thanks. How are you?” because I know most people don’t actually want to know how my day is going.

How are you

Of course, many of our interactions are necessarily kept on a casual level. I’m pretty sure the bank teller doesn’t really want to know that my father is very ill or that I’m worried about my kids.

But maybe it’s time to reclaim the phrase “How are you?” and to use it in the way it was intended. Maybe we should start answering the question honestly when we’re asked. If someone doesn’t really want to know, they’ll soon learn to say something else. “Hello. Nice to see you.” We should ask the question as if we mean it and be prepared for an answer.

I wanted to turn around to that man called Peter and ask him why things weren’t good and if he was okay but I didn’t. I wish I had. Who knows, I may have been the first person to really ask him “How are you?”



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The Friends We Deserve

I had a birthday recently. Let me just say I am not the world’s most enthusiastic birthday celebrant and the older I get, the less enthusiastic I become. Friends asking “So, what are you doing for your birthday?” are inevitably met with “Nothing.”

It’s not that I’m unhappy to have a birthday. As Larry Lorenzoni pointed out, “Birthdays are good for you. Statistics show that the people who have the most live the longest.”

I’ve just always felt mildly embarrassed to invite people to celebrate my birthday with me. It seems somehow selfish and self-aggrandising. Birthdays were never lavish affairs growing up and I’ve toned them down since then. (Although, I do remember my 11th birthday when I and my friends were taken to the circus. We had whistlepops.)

This year, some of my friends decided a non-celebratory birthday was unacceptable so they kidnapped me and gave me a birthday celebration anyway. It made me wonder what I’ve done in my life to deserve them.

Do we get the friends we deserve? Is there a Friendship Karma? A Buddy Balance Sheet? Do the friends you get measure up to the friend you are? If there is a balance sheet, I think I’m in the red. I’ve been blessed with friends far in excess of what I deserve.

Some friends have come into my life when I’ve needed them and exited when I no longer did. Some have come into my life and stayed. Even the Poor Choice friends of my youth have served a purpose, showing me the lifestyle I didn’t want and pushing me towards new friends who made me feel safe instead of scared.

I’ve certainly tried to be a good friend but at times I’ve failed, as I suspect we all do at some point in our lives. Lack of contact, being unavailable and, worst of all, hurtful words spoken out of thoughtlessness have all been committed by me. Perhaps it’s the errors we make that show us which of our friends are the stayers. I feel an eternal debt to those friends who have forgiven and forgotten the mistakes I’ve made and stuck by me.

I can’t imagine a world without friendship. While your family is meant to love you, friends choose to love you. They choose to spend time with you. And they are often the ones who know the Real You, especially the Lifelong Friend. Lifelong friends have seen you at your best and at your worst, they’ve shared your growing up, your life-changes, your highlights and your lowlights. That doesn’t mean that lifelong friends only arrive in childhood. Sometimes they appear later in life but come to know you so well it’s as if they have been a part of your life forever.

I wrote this song for my friend Carolyn for her birthday a couple of years ago. The words are equally applicable to so many of my friends. Friends I continue to do my best to deserve.



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