There’s so much to say on this subject, I’m not sure where to begin. So, why not start with good ole’ Pennsylvanian, Mr. Rogers, Fred Rogers, that is.
Many of today’s young American adults grew up alongside the kindly Mr. Rogers from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, on PBS television. His cardigan sweaters and gentle demeanor helped children feel safe and nurtured. He was a helper.
Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” There’s a boatload of scary news to navigate these days. There are also many helpers, to combat it.
Primary for me, to the concept of helping, is the helpmate, originating with the word, helpmeet, from the Bible’s book of beginnings, Genesis. The creation story has wo-man, fashioned from man’s rib, as an uber-companion/helper, “meet,” or created intentionally and precisely as his spouse, joined to him at the hip, almost.
We were created together, as a pair. He was an unfinished work, without her. One shoe, when you have two feet, doesn’t do you much good, but a pair will take you anywhere. This sounds like Dr. Seuss, but alas it is Mrs. LeVan.
We don’t hear that word, helpmate, used so much in today’s parlance for marriage partner, spouse, husband, wife, girlfriend, or boyfriend. I wonder why the word fell into disuse? Perhaps because we’ve grown an attitude of “I never needed anybody’s help in any way.” (Note: stay alert, lyrics from the Beatles song, Help! will be interspersed throughout this piece.)
We Americans are an independent lot. Way back when, Frank Sinatra proudly sang the other American anthem, “I did it my way.” We were a nation fully ensconced in the “look out for number one” mentality by Sinatra’s time. Trained to think primarily about ourselves and do what helps “one” the most, we shunned helpers, turning them away when they offered help.
It’s too remarkable not to mention a prophecy from the Bible’s, 2 Timothy, chapter 3, about the self-centered character of this age we live in. Is it smack dab on target or what?
“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, ungrateful, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, conceited….” (paraphrased and abridged). What can I say? Help!
“When I was younger, so much younger than today. I never needed anybody’s help in any way.” I think it begins around the age of two, or maybe three. “I’ll do it myself.” With my child, it was with storybooks. Having memorized her favorites, she no longer needed mom or dad to read them, she took book in hand, turned pages willy-nilly, and recited the story herself.
Help. It’s not an utterance reserved just for crying out in a crisis. But we often feel ashamed to ask for it. I shouldn’t need help, should I? If my parents raised me right, shouldn’t I be prepared to do stuff by myself?
“But now those days are gone, I’m not so self-assured…. Help me if you can I’m feelin’ down. And I do appreciate you being ‘round…”. Then we grow up a little bit and moments creep into our lives when we find that we need a little help.
Suddenly, it seems, we need a helper. But not all the time. Helpers. How many Human Resource professionals have heard the phrase, “I just want to help people?”
Back when handicaps became disabilities, we were told that some people don’t want our help, even if they appear to need it. How does one know when to help others? It’s unclear, unless you ask. And even then, they may respond, “I don’t need any help,” when clearly, they do. Oh well.
Just the other day, at the grocery store checkout, I couldn’t resist helping the conveyor belt move my stuff toward the cashier. I reorganized the stuff as it too quickly passed toward her, fruit with fruit, deli stuff together, veggies with veggies; oh no, the blueberries were with the canned beans! I laughed but sort of panicked as I nearly threw the blueberries (“clean up aisle 3”) at the scanner, and said, “I’m sorry. You probably hate it when we try to help.” She was gracious but almost certainly agreed, likely muttering in her head, “crazy lady.”
My husband is an awesome helpmate. The Beatles sentiment, “I do appreciate you being ‘round”-thing, fits us to a T. He’s there with me in the ups and downs, through thick and thin, sickness and health, all of it. But sometimes his “help” just isn’t necessary.
For example, after he says, “I was just trying to help,” I’ve been known to say, after cleaning up a mess related to too many cooks in the kitchen, “I didn’t need your help with this.”
Again, at the Everett Foodliner – is everybody this brutally transparent in the grocery store – when we shop together, my spouse likes to help with the bagging. If a bagger is not immediately at the ready, he asks if he can do the task. The cashier usually lets him have at it because he’s so willing, but there is a reluctance, in that it’s not his job. Cashier calls “number 3” or some such code for “get a bagger here now. Some guy is trying to help us bag.” His help isn’t needed after all.
As I grow older, I agree more and more with the Beatles in saying, “And now my life has changed in oh so many ways. My independence seems to vanish in the haze. But every now and then I feel so insecure. I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before.” John Lennon and Paul McCartney were in their early 20s when they penned these words in 1965.
We still should ask others if they want us to help. Our good intentions can backfire and our offer to help can seem spurned, if they want to muddle forward by themselves, in their own way. Also, the help we offer might not be the kind of help they want. Again, oh well.
Helplessness is a feeling most Americans with a traditional work ethic find hard to stomach. We want to do something about it, “it” being anything that needs attended to, fixing, or helped forward.
We can’t help it. We grew up in a broadly, working-class system. We were born into an ideology known originally as the Protestant Work Ethic. In this ethic, hard work, discipline, and frugality result from values espoused by Puritanical Protestant faith.
Helplessness and hard work are two concepts that do not correlate. So, if we find ourselves in a truly helpless situation, where our efforts are useless, oh my. “Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.” And, I’ll “get by with a little help from my friends” (With a Little Help from My Friends, The Beatles, 1967, Lennon-McCartney).
“I need somebody (Help!) not just anybody (Help!) you know I need someone Help!”