Most of us Americans have been raised to be self-sufficient or at least to aspire to self-sufficiency, to be individuals first and members of society second. The lone hero fighting the system or the bad guys compels our adulation. We admire Dirty Harry, Wonder Woman and Katniss Everdeen.
We see accepting help as a weakness, as a sign that we’re incapable of accomplishing our mission (whatever that might be) on our own. We take pride in our self-sufficiency and for many of us, that’s one of our biggest fears about aging. Losing our independence. Becoming a burden on our family.
I think one of the reasons for our unwillingness to seek help is that no one wants to be pitied, thereby becoming an object (an object of pity) rather than a human being. And by acknowledging that we need help, we’re somehow encouraging others to pity us.
If you conduct a survey of your friends and relatives, asking them if it makes them happy to have to ask others for help, likely almost all of them will say no. Yet if you ask them whether it makes them happy to help others, all or almost all of them will say yes.
The thing is, none of us is truly independent. We are social creatures and we all rely on other people for something. Every interaction with another person involves some sort of reciprocity. We give and take at the same time, offering someone directions or moving to the side of the aisle to allow someone in a wheelchair to pass or even just acknowledging the existence of another person in public.
Once we reach adulthood, these contacts with others are almost exclusively voluntary unless we’re disabled or elderly. Then they become more of a necessity. The lucky ones among us are going to become old one day. But even if we’re not lucky in that respect, we’re likely to become infirm enough that we need to seek out help.
That can be difficult. It takes courage in our society to admit we need assistance. At the same time, it can be very empowering to acknowledge to yourself that you aren’t perfect, that you can’t do everything the way you once believed you could. And asking for help often makes the people you ask happier. They get to feel like they’ve done something good that day, which they have.
It’s time to rethink our cultural aversion to seeking assistance. We should celebrate people asking for help when they need it because they’re smart to realize they can accomplish more with the help of others than they can alone. The whole notion of the solitary hero, however appealing, ought to be relegated to the world of fantasy, because that’s what it is.