As I considered my own experiences and those of friends with chronic illness or disability, my reply to Cat became ever longer. The etiquette of offering and accepting help seems lost on many people. The ramifications of people's behaviour extend beyond a mere verbal exchange and go to the heart of self-identify and self-worth.
There were too many discussion points for a quick comment so I have chosen to publish the first part here, to be continued in instalments. Perhaps by the last one, we will have a better understanding of how to help each other.
Cat questioned whether and how one should offer or accept help. My immediate response is below:
The right thing to do is to offer help if you are certain it is warranted but be prepared to be refused and don't take it personally.
Be aware that your idea of what is helpful may differ from the person needing or accepting help.
Trust that most people in need of help are their own best expert about what they need and how someone should help them.
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For example, consider an encounter that I had this week where I was trying to fit a large, long car into a narrow parking space (where I regularly park). Two pedestrians who were returning to their own vehicle misinterpreted my very slow, careful, deliberate manoeuvres as a driver in difficulty. (Could this reflect their own lack of confidence in car parks?)
I was certainly confident about what I was doing because I had parked there many, many times and I know my car's handling extremely well. The two pedestrians decided that I must need some help (they didn't ask or check first) and proceeded to position themselves between my car and the edge of the parking space while trying to direct me.
My car is longer than usual and needs every inch of room I can get in that car park in order to efficiently get into the parking space. The two unwelcome strangers were standing right where I needed to put my car. I tried to wave them off, to call out to them "I don't need any help thank you." but they insisted on standing there. They were in a dangerous place for their own safety (stepping in front of a moving vehicle, however slowly it was moving) and they were a distraction to my concentration and a nuisance.
Trying to explain to them that I know what I am doing with my long car had no effect on their actions. Maybe they were concerned that I might somehow back into their car which was parked across the aisle. Perhaps they incorrectly thought that they knew better about my situation ("She's moving so slowly, she must need help.") I move slowly so I don't hit neighbouring vehicles or obstacles and have plenty of reaction time should pedestrians come along because I don't have eyes in the back of my head!
In the end I bluntly shouted to them, "YOU ARE NOT HELPING. YOU ARE IN THE WAY. PLEASE MOVE!" Now, they may have been offended by my exasperation, but it is also rude to insist when someone says "No thanks". They wasted valuable time and energy, put themselves in potential danger, and everyone went away feeling upset. That is not helping anyone!
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Many people offer help through a sense of duty or a desire to feel good about themselves; e.g., I'm a good person because I helped someone. Maybe they have their own interests at heart. It is a good thing to help others but only when the motivation is truly about the other person's needs. All too often the motivation is to (consciously or subconsciously) boost the helper's self-esteem or to serve the helper's self-interest at the expense of the help recipient.
To be continued …
What do you think?
CatDownUnder, ""I tried to do something to help ..." blog post, CatDownUnder, 15 July 2016: http://thereandbackbytricycle.blogspot.com.au/2016/07/i-tried-to-do-something-to.html