Gift Horse

I learned an important this week: People who offer to help don’t always actually want to help. It’s ridiculous and obvious all at the same time. Why would people offer to help if they don’t really want to? Is it out of a feeling of obligation? Do they offer their help, trusting (or crossing their fingers and hoping) that the person they offer it to will hold up their end of some unwritten social contract and turn them down? “Oh no, I’m fine. Really, I’m fine.”

I learned this lesson from a woman who has been helping me out with something for the last two or three weeks. When I failed to let her know about a change in plan, she sent me a scathing e-mail basically telling me to bugger off. Being the good little people pleaser my mother raised me to be, it totally knocked me off the beam. Somewhere inside, however, I knew that she was beginning to feel resentment about the situation. I kept thinking “I need to call so-and-so and check in with her,” but something else would grab my attention (perhaps my two month old baby?) and I didn’t do it. In retrospect I can see that she must have been feeling trapped and, when I’m feeling really charitable, I feel sorry for her. She didn’t have the wherewithal to call me up and say “hey, jenny, this is turning out to be a real drag. I need out!”, and so instead she took the first opportunity she had to rid of herself of her burden and, simultaneously, to make it my fault.

I apologized to her for my part in the misunderstanding, and now I am resisiting the urge to tell myself all sorts of horrible untruths about how I shouldn’t ask people for help anymore. What if they are only offering out of a sense of obligation? That seems terrible to me, to accept help from someone who is secretly resentful about giving it. God Forbid someone should have negative feelings about me! Is my learning to ask for help really progress? Perhaps I’ve gone too far. Have I started accepting too much help? Is it time to return to the whole bootstrap philosophy?

Fuck that! I’ve worked too damn hard at learning to accept and even ask for help when needed to allow one cranky woman to screw it up. Having a new baby is a vulnerable place to be. This is a time in my life to reach out to the people who love me and say “Hey, I can’t do this by myself.” So, the part of this lesson I want to take with me isn’t that people can turn on you after offering their help, it’s that I don’t have to let that stop me from asking for it. Besides, one of the best parts of receiving help from others is getting to pay it forward.

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~ by jenzai on October 30, 2008.

5 Responses to “Gift Horse”

  1. Something about the bad faith offer of help reminded me of M. Scott Peck’s idea of “pseudounity” as a stage towards true unity (and the search results I got trying to find that left me distracted shocked at how many people hate Peck!) and I get lost in my own labyrinth of messy feelings about obligatory volunteering (urbanmamas yesterday: the working mom with a younger child who feels guilty that all she does is help sort the lost and found, stuff the weekly parent envelopes, and help with library check-out time, wait right here while I go bang my head against a wall!)

    I love your acknowledging how hard you’ve worked to accept and ask for help, acknowledging your vulnerability, new baby and everything. And you know what? Some people may offer help and then resent it, and it’s going to be — their problem. We are, all of us, to varying degrees opaque creatures, and perhaps that is a good thing as we have to learn to take each other in good faith and stop offering things we don’t truly want to offer.

    For some reason this echoes me this week getting caught in a little loops when a friend said “You don’t mind, do you, if I do X? It’s really important to me,” and I politely agreed that I didn’t mind, and a few minutes later, realized I was minding, and then, finally realized, that, in fact, that is my problem, and I can mind it or not… and was finally able to choose not to mind so much.

  2. How cool it is to “hear” this from you! Really, it’s pretty awesome, remembering when and all. We don’t truly, truly know, of course, what her motivations were or were not (or whether they just changed midstream or it looked different than she had imagined or whatever or just wanted acknowledgement or whatever), only the final result, so it’s especially good that you aren’t altering any life philosophy based on it! šŸ˜‰ To be able to see it as it is, ONE mere mortal’s reaction, rather than refusing to see all the other help that’s come along, is awesome.

    I was surprised at Mara’s finding that there are people who hate Scott Peck, so of course I had to learn more. Instead, I was shocked to find that he died three years ago! How did I not know this? The Road Less Traveled and A Different Drum so seriously impacted me that it would be difficult for me to explain. Also, Searching for Stones was a big part of my planning for my Europe trip 5 years ago. It makes me sad to learn that he died, and that I didn’t even know it!

  3. Truly, it’s also a DBT bromide (there should be a book about ways in which DBT and AA overlap): “Just because the answer was no, doesn’t mean you were wrong to ask.”

    I think I need that on a t-shirt; I can hardly remember it even with the Brujo, some days!

  4. @mara: The force is strong within you!

  5. But she said YES! In fact, I didn’t even ask, she offered! Not that this matters one iota. Still, it’s so much fun making myself nuts thinking about it.

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