I’ll do it myself. You don’t have to bother. I can handle it.
Do these statements sound like you? How willing are you to ask for help when you are feeling lost, confused, overwhelmed or just in need of help carrying something?
Why do you think people sometimes resist seeking out or accepting assistance?
In the guest essay “Self-Sufficiency Is Overrated,” Sarah Wildman writes about how she came to embrace her need for help and, in so doing, found more meaningful connections with people in her life. She begins:
One week this summer, my partner, my children and I borrowed a friend’s house near my parents’ and sister’s places in New Jersey. Before we arrived, my friend asked me what she could leave for us in the house. Milk? Eggs? Fruit? Coffee? I brushed off her offers. Really, I said, we don’t need anything. It’s kind of you just to lend us the space.
Stop saying no, she insisted. Just tell me what you need.
Her entreaties loosened something in me that I’d been holding too tightly, for more than 18 months. “I’m fine,” I have told myself since the pandemic began. I have my groceries delivered. I have my walking route. I sent myself some new walking shoes. (I’ve sent myself far too many things.) I have work.
But my friend’s generosity made me realize that I do want for something. I want someone else to take care of me. Articulating this felt dangerous, vulnerable. Generally, I want to not want.
Considering her change of heart when it comes to accepting other people’s kindness, she goes on to write:
Becoming open again to the generosity of others offers a fresh way to see the world. Small kindnesses from friends and strangers suddenly feel outsize in their humanity. A man at the rental car agency chatting amiably with me makes me swell with good will, as does the gas station attendant who makes sure I buy exactly the right amount of fuel for when I return the car.
I want to hold onto this feeling of appreciation for a beat longer, to recognize how much more human I feel when I accept the plant seller’s offer to drop off the succulent I purchased at no extra charge, or when a friend shows up with an unexpectedly well-considered basket of vodka, chocolate and almonds.
And then there are the enormous kindnesses — the actress who donated her time to teach my daughter acting by video; another old friend who offered to lend us her house in Maine, and then insisted on taking us to her favorite beaches, a precious gift of space and beauty after a year locked away. The childhood friend who patiently stood in the ocean for an hour, putting my kids on a surfboard again and again.
There’s a reason most of us, normally, don’t live cut off from other people. We need others to support us in so many ways — for the teaching of our children, the growing of our food, the caring for our vulnerable. In my family that’s more profoundly evident than in others.
But it is clear that no one feels quite right these days. I ran into a high school classmate I hadn’t seen in a decade on the street; we both described a vague feeling of unease that we can’t seem to shake.
Maybe it would help to relinquish our hard-protected, false sense of self-sufficiency. I’m trying, in these vaccinated, brisk-but-not-terribly-cold days, to gratefully accept offerings from friends, family and strangers: a home-cooked dinner served outside, a house by the sea, a few minutes of unexpected conversation. I feel buoyed by a friend who unabashedly texts “I love you” every now and then, apropos of nothing.
Students, read the entire essay, then tell us:
Do you find it hard to let other people help you? How do you generally respond when someone offers to lend you a hand? Why do you think you respond that way?
Have you ever asked for help or shared with someone that you were struggling? Tell us about a time when you accepted help, or even just a kind gesture, from someone after you expressed your needs. How did it feel to share what you were going through? What did the other person say or do to help? What, if anything, did you learn from the experience?
Ms. Wildman gives the example of rejecting a friend’s offer to leave basic grocery items at the house where she and her family were staying. Why do you think people tend to fight offers of such kindness? Have you ever done that? Conversely, has anyone ever resisted your offer of help? What did that feel like?
Ms. Wildman writes about her family’s own experience, “Somewhere along the way, we forgot how to care for ourselves, or how to ask for more support, especially knowing everyone was stretched too thin.” To what degree, if at all, does this statement describe something that you have experienced, during the pandemic or at any other time in your life?
What do you think of the idea put forth in the essay that we have a “false sense of self-sufficiency”? Do you think people need other people? Or, if we try hard enough, can we solve our own problems? Explain.
Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.