Ask for Help

Image credit:

Image credit:

A Johns Hopkins professor of mine, Pier M. Forni, started The Civility Project after contemporary events raised questions for him about civility in today's world.

Forni's research took him into high schools, maximum-security prisons, and corporate offices. The first popular book to result, Choosing Civility, uses his findings to guide readers on applying thoughtful behavior and common decency to make our world, and the lives of the people with whom we interact, more pleasant and more connected.

One of the stories in Choosing Civility stuck in my mind: A woman watering her yard offers a drink to a man and his dog walking by on a hot day. What's the civil response? Surprisingly—to me—the civil response is to accept the offer. Take the water. It's the kind thing to do.

Seems accepting her offer is rather an imposition. Thing is, though, she offered. She wants to connect, to help the man and his dog, and to feel the glow of having helped. Accepting her offer is a kindness to her—and to him.

Forni's scene came to mind recently in conversation with a friend of mine, Mattison Grey. Over lunch, Grey and I—both workout geeks—talked about exercising. She mused on how people in group exercise gain as much from encouraging others as the people encouraged gain. (She was specifically talking about Crossfit.) Contributing to someone's success creates a collective, supportive community—something we need in all areas of our lives.

Another example: My friend is recovering from cancer. When first diagnosed, he figured he could handle it on his own. Asking for help? Not for him. Yet there came a time when going it solo was no longer an option. When the call went out to help him with doctor's appointments, household tasks, and companionship, a solid support team formed. Later, he expressed surprise at how many people made the effort to get him through. Yet I, for one, was so honored for the opportunity to assist.

At lunch, Grey said she figured we'd all have more friends than we could imagine who'd jump at the chance to help us if we only asked.

She's right. At a challenging period in my life, when I made some big changes, a handful of friends helped me with a few painful and unpleasant tasks that I would have struggled to get through alone. The vast majority of these friends didn't need asking—they saw what needed doing and showed up. I'm glad of that--I'm terrible at asking for help. Shame on me.

How many people would help you if they just knew they could—and knew how? And what would it do for you and for them if you asked? Self sufficiency is important, but we all need others. Humans are communal creatures. We want to participate in each other’s lives.

Let them in.