The One with the Wood Blinds

I came home from work to find several of my neighbors in my building’s lobby.  Coincidentally we had all arrived at the same time and were tending to the business of getting our mail, newspapers and packages as we exchanged pleasantries. There was P, the landscape architect, who does an amazing job of keeping the plants alive on the roof deck, and M and T, the long-married couple. T has taught at a Catholic high school for decades. If he has his way, he’ll never retire. M enjoys yoga. Despite having lived in this country for about thirty years, her accent remains so thick that I can only understand every third word she says. I’m the only one who seems to have this problem. She loves Reggie and leaves little treats for him now and then on my doorstep.

Me: This is very nice of you, but Reggie doesn’t really eat brie.

M: What…you talking…? …cheese…delicious. …he…picky?

On this day, a long, narrow package arrived for me. It was the wood blinds I’d ordered for the kitchen. Finally. I tucked it under my arm, making sure not to hit anyone when I swung around. Of all the crazy things I’ve carried up the stairs over the years, this was a piece of cake.

P: You need help with that?

Me: No, it’s lighter than it looks.

That was true. The weight listed on the sticker showed twelve pounds. Reggie’s dog food bags weigh twice as much.  We trooped toward the stairs. As it turns out we all live on the same floor. Long time readers may remember that I live on the fifth floor of a walk-up. (If I had a dime for every delivery person who asks, “Where’s the elevator?” I’d be rich.) We rounded the second floor.

Reggie, showing off the box with the wood blinds.

Gratuitous shot of Reggie, showing off the box with the wood blinds.

T: I can get it for you. I’m not carrying anything.

Me: It’s fine.

T: Really. It’s no problem.

At the fifth floor, the four of us went to our respective apartments. I propped the package against my door while getting my key.

M, gave me a tsk-tsk and patted me on the shoulder: Two men here and you refuse help.

I was about to say that I didn’t need help. The package was light enough. I’d rather ask for help when I have no choice: like when I have to carry a sixty-pound air conditioner. But, as usual, I had missed the point entirely. The point wasn’t about needing help. It was about accepting help. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “It’s one of those beautiful compensations in this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” By refusing help, was I being unkind?

For me, this isn’t a gender issue. I’m not assuming that my neighbors don’t think I’m competent enough to handle the box. I’m not trying to prove that I can carry wood blinds up four flights of stairs. It’s really not about the wood blinds. It’s about allowing others to provide assistance, about not worrying that I’m unfairly burdening someone else. “I got this” has been my m.o. for years.

My mom has always been a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of person. She instilled that in me from an early age. And there is a lot of value in that. It is good to know that you can rely on yourself and, most importantly, trust yourself to handle whatever life throws your way, whether it’s carrying window treatments or buying your first home or dealing with an illness.

But it is equally important to graciously accept someone’s sincere offer for assistance. People like to feel needed. Both men and women. In Erin Henry’s thought-provoking piece for the Huffington Post, she says when she is uncomfortable asking for help, “I turn the tables and think of how happy I would be standing in the other person’s shoes with the ability to help me out and do something nice out of the kindness of my heart.”

That’s a great point. I like helping out. Watch your cats while you’re away? No problem. Mash the potatoes for the dinner party? Check. Put together your Ikea table? Show me the directions. It makes me feel good to do something nice for a friend. Why not give my friends and neighbors the same opportunity?

Now I’m off to see if I can find someone to rub all this tension out of my neck.

Do you have trouble asking for help? Are you a recovering “do it myself-er”? How did you overcome it? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

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24 comments

  1. I should say, Ikea directions give me fits. they always seem so reasonable and I think my problem is that I over-complicate them. I’m like you, I would have carried the box as well not even thinking that I was being rude. At the same time, if I was with you, I would have offered to carry the box. Guess I’m better at helping than being helped.

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  2. Yeah… I’m a bit like you. I’d rather do stuff myself, whenever possible. But seeing as I lack the practicality/DIY gene, I do need help every once in a while. Happy to help out when I can, though I’m pretty useless at most things 😉

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  3. I feel compelled to preface my comment with the observation that Reggie is a handsome home furnishings model.

    I’m reading Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear,, which put a spin on my reading of this piece. I recently got to his description of how men with the potential to become “stalkers” test women very early on with the simple, “Can I get you a drink?”

    If the woman declines and he asks again, eventually soliciting ‘yes,’ he knows this may be someone he can manipulate. When I read that, I thought about how easily I say yes — not necessarily to drinks, but to social “niceties” such as offers for help or unwanted conversations — for fear of being considered rude.

    Now I’m paying attention to when I say ‘yes’ for the sake of not hurting another person’s feeling versus truly being interested or in need of assistance. I wish human relationships weren’t so complex!

    Your neighbor is no doubt just trying to be helpful and it’s important to have a cordial relationship, so this entire comment may be off-base. It’s just the first chance I’ve had to work through what I’m learning from this book. It’s ok to say no.

    And, have I mentioned that Reggie is a . . . ha. . . fetching home furnishings model? 😉

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    1. I’ve heard about The Gift of Fear. Such an important read. In an interview, I remember Gavin de Becker making a point that stayed with me: trust your intuition. If the little hairs stand up on the back of your neck, or if you get “that feeling” in the pit of your stomach, heed it! Women, he said, have more of a tendency to be agreeable for the sake of social conventions. Does he cover this in the book as well?

      If my day job doesn’t work out, Reggie will support us both by becoming a model. I think there is a position open on The Price is Right. 🙂

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  4. I like being self-sufficient. Yes, it’s at the expense of my back at times. I suppose, however, in some cultures, it’s impolite to refuse help.

    Your dog is a beautiful photo bomber.

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    1. I’m working on accepting help more graciously. It’s not easy when you’re a recovering DIY-er like me.
      Reggie could be sound asleep, but pick up the camera and he’s in every shot. 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. Are you sure Reggie doesn’t care for Brie? He looks like a spaniel of deep intelligence and discernment. =)
    I have no trouble asking for help. At the first sign of trouble from one of the analyzers at work I am calling tech support. My more self sufficient co-workers will say “Well maybe we could try doing this and that first…” but I’m already dialing the number. I guess that’s a little different because tech support people are paid to help, but in general, I can ask. My life lessons tend to be of the opposite “learning to rely on myself” kind.

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  6. I am at that stage in my physical decline where I not only accept help, but I ask for it. Recently at The Grind, I had two deliveries of about a half ton of marble tile samples. In the first delivery, each box weighed around 40-50 pounds. There were around 20 boxes. The guy that brought it up to me did not always lay it on its correct side, so I was stuck moving it around. When I came home that night, I felt so stiff I craved a morphine drip. A few weeks later a second half ton delivery of stone arrived. Our shipping manager and his helper, two guys significantly younger than me and both twice my size, wheeled this delivery onto my floor and then proceeded to walk away. I work alone. I said, “You guys do realize that I have to unload this and do all the lifting by myself. Can you help me out here?” They said, in unison, “Oh. Yeah. Sure.”

    If a package is an easy schlep like your blinds, I’d have the same response as you. I’m only a partial invalid and I am in general self-sufficient, but I am also a fan of self-preservation. Was Reggie with you as you were schlepping, or was he home waiting for you while gazing at his handsome self in the mirror? I love that gratuitous shot!

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    1. That’s a great point, V. All you have to do is ask, and people are usually happy to help. Sometimes they don’t even realize you need help unless you ask.

      I hope you get hazard pay for moving all those boxes around at The Grind!

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  7. Lookin’ good, Reggie!

    I had to chuckle at your “conversation” with M. I’m the same way with technical support people in India. Have to make them repeat things over and over. And I’m a language major!

    Not good at accepting help, but getting better.

    I really, really hope you had professional movers when you moved in.

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    1. I know! I feel so bad when I keep asking her to repeat herself. She must be frustrated. Sometimes I have to nod and smile because I have no idea what she’s saying!

      Reggie is thinking of a side career in modeling. 🙂

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  8. I would have carried to box, too. For the same reasons. I’d never have even thought the analyze the situation as you did — that we give others a bit of happiness by allowing them to help. What a valuable lesson.

    And for the record: I am not good with accents either. Other people seem to understand what I simply can’t grasp! Love the way you painted “M.”

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    1. It took me a long time to realize that maybe, just maybe, by allowing other people to help when they’ve genuinely offered it makes them happy. I would see their faces lift into a smile. Most people really do want to help.

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  9. First of all, you neighbors sound delightful! And I understand that disinclination to ask for help. But then you’re right, it’s not about asking. It’s about accepting. Important distinction!

    Hope your blinds are looking lovely. Now I have some left-over brie that Reggie, your picky dog, might like.

    Sorry it’s taken me so long to get here. It’s been a crazy week!

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

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    1. Would you believe that I haven’t installed the blinds yet? I just haven’t found an extra hour to do it. Maybe I should ask for help! 🙂
      Have you finished your unpacking from the container?

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  10. I have a colleague who emigrated to the US about 50 years ago. She visits Hungary every 2-3 years. At her last holiday, she did some shopping with one of her friends. When they arrived home, both hands of her friend were full of packages. My colleague waited patiently for her friend to open the door – till the friend asked her somewhat indignantly whether she would help. She realised at this moment that her behaviour changed in this respect: in the US, it took some years till she got accustomed to the habit that you help only if you are explicitly asked for. She says that people seem to try to remain strong and independent even if they are in pain or trouble. This might help to mobilize the inner strengths and energy. Similarly, she needed years till she has not become nervous from the bright smile of foreign people. In Hungary, we usually smile at people with which we are familiar. First she thought that this smile is completely empty and forced. Then she interpreted it in such a way that they try to be friendly on the one hand, and they try to be always positive and keep themselves on the happy side, on the other hand. And I think this might work often. When you watch the Olympic Games on TV, you can see Japanese athletes crying when they win and smiling when the lose. Do they keep the balance in this way?

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    1. What a great point! How and when a person offers or accepts assistance can depend on where he/she is from. The differences between cultures is fascinating and may have a lot to do with perception. There are even major differences within the US. Very good to keep that in mind, especially in a large city with a diverse population.

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