Have you been hesitating to ask for help? It seems to me that this must happen more and more as technology enables self reliance.
Yes, people do use tech to ask for help within their existing communities, and I hope after reading this you do even more of that! But hear me out…
Your Prime account, rideshare app, and Google have you covered. You can find a place to stay on AirBnB, pay for grocery shopping, even get your dog walked by a stranger if you would more readily rely on a formal service than ask a friend for a favor.
When we rely less on social capital and more on what cash can buy, we become disconnected from our neighbors. When we build no social capital and find ourselves in tight spots, it’s even harder to reach out for support. I truly believe if we asked for help more often each ask would be lower stakes, and both parties would have the opportunity to say “next time” if Yes wasn’t possible this time.
Asking for help makes us vulnerable. We don’t want to inconvenience anyone–especially when that friend or neighbor never asks us for anything. We don’t want to be seen as lazy, incompetent, or worse: taking someone for granted.
But there are so many benefits to be realized if we open up to our support systems:
Asking for help gives someone a chance to do something good for themselves. We don’t need research to tell us that being generous is good for us, but the evidence on the health benefits of good deeds is out there*.
Asking for help opens your neighbors up to do the same. So hopefully you’ll have a chance to get in on that good juju, too.
When I visited Peru a few years ago I learned about the Andean emphasis on reciprocity. At first I felt put off. Was it acceptable in this culture to give only in order to receive? But that wasn’t giving our hosts enough credit. After more research I came to understand the context of mutuality–a kind of interconnectedness where everyone relies on one another. It wasn’t about manipulation, but a means for survival for the collective.
To state the obvious, asking for help makes it easier for people to help. Particularly in times of crisis, there is often a hoard of willing helpers who don’t know how to make themselves useful. I’ve been on the receiving end of an avalanche of “if there’s anything I can do to help”s. I remember how overwhelming it felt. Sometimes I hear advice like “don’t ask what they need, just do something.” But in practice I think that’s even more difficult. If you have the capacity to do a little delegating, you can help the helpers actually provide something you need.
We’re still talking civic engagement here, promise: Ask for the help you need to be civically engaged. Build a network of social capital so when it’s time to mobilize you have a crew to call on. Earn someone’s trust so you can have a meaningful dialogue. The more I write about civic engagement the more it feels like being a better neighbor but on a bunch of new levels.
Every time I ask for help I’m overwhelmed by the response. And over the years, I’ve done a lot of asking. Money for service learning experiences abroad. Cat sitting. Moving everything I own from one building to another. A meal and some company during sad times. Help buying a house. Help painting said house. Recommendation letters. Rides.
When Facebook recently prompted me to host a birthday fundraiser I saw an opportunity to make the tiniest dent in my own hopelessness surrounding the conflict in Syria. I set up a page to collect contributions for the Syrian American Medical Society and surpassed my $500 goal in two weeks. Just because I asked for help on Facebook. People you don’t even expect come out of the woodwork and support you if you just ask.
Civic engagement is about strengthening communities, and our communities are stronger when there is more social capital in circulation.
Your challenge this week: Ask for help when you would have otherwise made it work on your own. Say Thank You. Take in how amazing it feels to get the help you needed, and reciprocate (or pay it forward) when you get the chance.
*Just a handful of published studies with evidence for positive health benefits of generosity/altruism:
Giving to Others and the Association Between Stress and Mortality
– American Journal of Public Health
Is volunteering a public health intervention?
A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers
– BMC Public Health
On the Costs of Self-interested Economic Behavior
How Does Stinginess Get Under the Skin?
– Journal of Health Psychology
Virtue rewarded: Helping others at work makes people happier
– American Review of Public Administration
Feature Photo by Catt Liu