“You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.”
Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Harper Lee’s famous quote is often referred to. However, the statement is rather misleading. The truth is, you never really know a person. And in a metaphorical sense, no two people’s shoes are the same size. It is impossible for one to stand in another’s position. This is a disheartening thought – that nobody will ever understand us as we understand ourselves. But it’s inevitable. And since nobody understands exactly what you are going through, you need to be ready to tell people of your challenges, and even more importantly, ask for help. Unfortunately, this can be rather daunting. Whether it’s asking a question about school homework, accepting someone’s offer to help you carry something, or seeking advice from a family member, often people seem afraid to be even partially dependent on others. There are two main assumptions we might have that can stop us asking for help.
Assumption number one is that seeking help is a sign of weakness. It is, in fact, the opposite of this. It is a necessity. Author Peggy Collins wrote a book “Help is not a four letter word”, explaining what she calls “Self sufficiency syndrome.” This ‘syndrome’ can be seen as one of the reasons people are afraid of seeking assistance. Collins explains that as with anything, independence is a strength in moderation, but can be a weakness in excess.
Fiercely independent people often fall behind for trying to prove they can do everything on their own. We need to appreciate the importance of cooperation. Great leaders are not alone in their successes, they have a web of people who supported them and guided them to greatness. Edmund Hillary would never have reached the summit of Mount Everest if Tenzing Norgay hadn’t have been there guiding him. Scottie Pippen was an integral part of Michael Jordan’s development as a basketball player. Walt Disney wouldn’t have become successful if it weren’t for the support and ideas from his best friend Ub Iwerks.
Assumption two is that assistance will be a burden for the person we are asking it from. Asking for help can be extremely daunting if we feel we will be multiplying our problems. However, the simple fact is, people ENJOY helping others. On a psychological level, helping others activates the ubgenual anterior cingulate cortex in your brain. Simply, it boosts your self-confidence. We all like to feel appreciated, and generally asking someone for help will earn a positive reaction, not negative. Trusting others with your problems also helps to strengthen relationships, making it easier for you to confront them with issues in the future, or the other way around. Irish singer songwriter Bono summed this up pretty well. “To carry each other is not a burden at all, but a kind of privilege.”
We all live in an increasingly individualistic society, and it is unfortunate that our generation is growing up in a world where technology makes it possible for us to do many things on our own. Because when we loose our skills of collaboration to individualisation, we are creating a limitation for ourselves.
We are scared of weakness and scared of burdening others. But when we look critically at these fears we see that rather than hiding from assistance we need to start seeking it. People may not be able to walk in your shoes, but you can let them walk beside you, and that is enough.