Sunday 17 January 2016

Would you like any help with your packing?

would you like any help with your packing?

"Would you like any help with your packing?" The supermarket lady asks. "I should be fine, thanks," I say, hurriedly placing a loaf of bread into the carrier bag as the other items ricochet down towards me. I presume it's something she's told to say by management - a token gesture of help. It surprises me that help has to be offered rather than naturally given. Would anyone be offended if she started helping regardless? Have we got so politically correct that even help is offensive?

We're becoming a culture that rewards self-sufficiency. We opt for self-check-outs and self-service over physical human help. We create machines to do things faster and more efficiently and we can't work out why life still seems so hurried. We miss out on the reward of genuine heart-felt giving and receiving of help - the friend that met your very specific need; service with a smile. We're too afraid to ask because we don't think we deserve it. We think we should all just be coping. We think we're fine. 

I never actually say yes, of course. That would make me sound like I'm incapable of packing bags, right? Especially as, on this occasion, I only nipped in for a few extras on the way home. I would feel a bit awkward standing there watching a woman approximately twenty years my senior pack a loaf of bread, a tin of tomatoes and a carton of milk for me, while I stand there fumbling around in my purse.

"Do you need any help with the kids?" A friend asked last week because my husband was away. "I should be fine, thanks" I said, knowing full well I wouldn't. I mean, I'm not fine when he is around to be honest. And I start thinking, what would happen if I accepted every offer of help given to me? Do I have to be in dire need to accept it? Or could I accept an offer of a babysit so I can simply sit and watch tv?

After a difficult week people ask me: "well, why didn't you ask for help?". And every time I promise myself that, yes, I will get help next time, and every next time I start thinking, well, how do I even ask for help anyway? Which friend do I choose first? If someone helped last time, are they more or less willing to do it again? Am I taking liberties if they've already helped this week? And because I don't have the headspace to work out who to ask or what I actually need help with I carry on with the chaos on my own. 

"Let me know if you need any help," I said to a friend the other day. I suddenly realised that I'd done the very thing I find difficult to be on the receiving end of. It's not a question, more of a vague gesture. My friend didn't have to answer it. She didn't. I passed the buck - perhaps made life slightly more complicated for someone who may have really needed help but didn't get quite what I was offering. Would she really pick up the phone and call me? What task would she give me if she did? Any help? Any? Was that what I meant? Would I have been willing to take her children for the week? Or wash her dog for her? Probably not.

Perhaps there's a lot to be said in being specific: "Can I help to look after your children this week?" "Could I bring you a meal?" And be real about what we can and can't offer. It's far easier to offer those things than it is to ask for them. Can you imagine if I asked the friend who told me to 'let her know if I needed any help' if she could bring round dinner? It seems a bit cheeky, but she did offer any help, right?. If, however, she'd listed cooking food as a way she could help, then it would not sound so strange to ask for it. So, if someone says 'let me know if you need help' I will say "thank you. What kind of help are you offering?" 

"Can I help with your packing?" The supermarket man asks as I brave the shops again for the second time in a week. I realise that another human being is offering me very specific help. There are no ulterior motives, no obligation to pay him back. It's no skin off his nose if I accept it or not. I figure I will practice receiving help, and I'm grateful for it. 

"Yes, you can," I say. 

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