This entry is a companion piece to The Privilege of Preference.
As complicated as help is in the big, wide world, it is even more convoluted in my own mind. In my childhood, I somehow absorbed the notion that people would not like me if they had to routinely help me. I bought into the idea that asking for another's aid is inconveniencing.
In addition, I feel a strong compulsion to be grateful for whatever – and I do mean whatever – help I receive, regardless of whether it's useful or detrimental. Expressing preferences becomes a tangle for who gets to want when someone is helping them get what they need? While I rationally know all this is absurd, still it lingers for things learned over time and reinforced by experience are hard to alter with logic.
Consider some of my routine experiences: I have been walked to the wrong place and left there not knowing it. I have been given inaccurate information because the person thought they could get away with not looking since I can't see them. I have been treated badly because I expressed a preference in a seat at the airport. I was flatly ignored when I told a restaurant their Braille menu was unusable. I was the recipient of annoyance because I wanted something to match a specific color.
What I have learned from experience is in constant conflict with my belief that I should be treated with respect. A strong sense of fairness grapples with the undeniable reality that I need help and getting it must come first. Whenever I need to ask for assistance, all this comes into play.
The stronger my sense of self-worth becomes the angrier I find myself. Disrespect of my needs makes me dig in my heals about respect for my wants. It would be easy to dismiss my conflict, anger, and obstinacy by declaring me emotionally messed up. While that might be the case, I challenge any TAB to experience what I do on a regular basis and not have similar baggage.
Before I even consider asking for help, I run through a mental list: Can I do this myself? Can I find somebody who will barter favors? Who should I ask this time around? How do I ask so that I know they will refuse if it's a hardship? How do I arrange things to minimize the effort someone has to invest? Only after I have waded through all these questions and struggled with my own issues do I seek aid. Even after all these years, it still stresses me out. Heaven help me if it is somebody I've never asked before.
I don't think people realize the thought and preparation that goes into me requesting assistance. Or, well, I like to think they do not comprehend any of it given some of the ways they behave. If people acted as they sometimes do knowing all my prior groundwork, it would say things about humanity I simply refuse to believe.
In my dream world, help is offered willingly with no expectation of gratitude and a commitment to the helpee receiving aid that is what they want and need. In return, helpees would express appreciation and make clear what helping means in terms of time and effort. Assistance would not be offered out of obligation or when resentment is present. A "thank you" would end each interaction.
Help is an opportunity to do something good. Why can't it be that simple? A chance to be kind. A chance to show you care. A chance to be a positive force in another's life. A chance to live up to human potential.