The word unprecedented entered common conversation these past many weeks since the outbreak of the coronavirus across the world. It speaks to something never done before. How then has the word become such a common part of our experiences? Schools have closed, restaurants have shut down, people are working from home, and many people are not working at all. Governments issued declarations of quarantine, financial markets teetered, and we learned the definition of “social distancing.” While many of the practices mentioned have, in fact, been done before, they have not been done in our lifetimes. In that way, these are unprecedented times. The word unprecedented has the power to change the way we think. It can engender fear. It has a way of spreading panic. It can create irrational human behavior. It somehow gets into the core of our very being. The world will never be the same. One might even say that we have been throwing the word unprecedented around in unprecedented ways.
I propose we set a precedent. Let’s redirect our focus to the word help. It is a simple verb which means to make it easier for someone to do something by offering one’s services or resources. Help, though, may not always be well received. For example, quarantine does help prevent the spread of a communicable disease. On the other hand, quarantine can cause widespread unemployment and social isolation. Not surprisingly, the verdict on the success of quarantine depends on who you ask. From the medical perspective, it is the best option we have. It most certainly works. From a financial perspective, for both individuals and businesses, it may seem kind of extreme. Help can be the simple act of making a phone call to a debilitated, elderly neighbor to ensure his or her safety or it can be as complex as offering up one’s life as a first responder in a hospital in Wuhan, China, the Burgundy area of Italy, or New York City where the burden of the coronavirus exhausts all resources, including human lives. We are social beings. We live in community and we depend on others to thrive and succeed. Interestingly, though, there were times that we spent a part of ourselves to help others and the actions were less than well received. We appeared to miss the mark as the recipient of our actions may have been offended by our help. In those circumstances, a common thought enters our mind and the following phrase often gets expressed, “Well, I was only trying to help.” How then does the simple action of offering one’s services become such a complex interplay between individuals and society? Can there be an arrogance attached to the word help? Is it possible to find a balance around the word help in these unprecedented circumstances?
Help is a verb. A verb requires action. We tend to think of that particular action as something we do for others. We want to be in the position of helping. But what about being helped? Why is that notion so much harder for us to accept? I think we would all agree that many of our insecurities come from our childhood experiences. Needing help carries a complexity we often fail to consider. It reminds us that we are vulnerable. It may challenge our wavering hope that we are good enough, valuable, important. Asking for help would suggest that we are not capable of doing it ourselves. Isn’t that a sign of weakness? If I am helping, I feel better about myself. If I need help, I am a burden. Is it any wonder that helping is so complex? As a helper, have I considered the thoughts of the one I am helping? Have I even asked if help is needed? It becomes a rather complicated interaction. I must face my insecurities while considering the insecurities of others. The challenge of gaining awareness can be unsettling. There is a simple solution to this complex problem, though. All we need do is learn to ask for help. It simplifies everything. We can express ourselves in a very specific way, we can avoid the confusion around “trying to help”, and we can enhance the interaction of our communal selves. It is much easier to help someone who asks for help.
Like all pandemics in history, the coronavirus will pass. There will be consequences. Some will lose a loved one, some will need to change jobs, and some will grow closer to ones they love given the unexpected time spent in such close quarters. How is it that good outcomes can come from such dire circumstances? On par, is it possible that the coronavirus will help us in the end? As I said earlier, it depends on who you ask. One thing is certain. The coronavirus pandemic has changed us. My hope is that it will change a common vulnerability in all of us. We may become more adept at how we interact with others. We may even learn how to interact with ourselves. The stimuli are constant. We will continue to receive updates on a minute to minute basis. It can get overwhelming. We may experience financial and emotional stress. In the end, though, we still have the power to choose our response. We may even learn to ask for help. Given the inherent goodness in others, I trust the offers to help will both comfort and surprise you.« Back to Blog