This one time a stranger helped me put on my belt.
I had just gone through security in the Portland airport and was struggling a bit to get my belt back on when suddenly I felt a tug. I whipped my head around and a lady sitting on the bench near me had grabbed the end of my belt and tucked it through the next loop for me. I was surprised, but thanked her. She smiled back and then continued to wait for her flying buddy.
I had a choice about how to react in this situation.
I could have been offended. Talk about invading my personal space! She didn’t even ask if I needed help! And did she not think I could handle it? That’s a bit presumptuous. I’ve put my belt on thousands of times all by myself. Just because I have one hand and look to be struggling with a task does NOT mean I need your help! *stomps feet*
I could recognize her intent and thank her for helping. I could stop assuming that she’s having pity on me because of my hand and understand that she just saw someone who could use a hand (rim shot) and literally reached out to help.
Honestly, the first option never crossed my mind. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized just how hurtful that line of thinking can be. It hurts me because it puts me in a negative frame of mind. It puts me in an angry place. It means I’m focusing on my disability and assuming the worst of others. And it’s not fair to those who are trying to help. If I got the door for someone using crutches and they got mad at me and told me they could do it themselves, that would leave a bad taste in my mouth. Why not assume the best and allow people to help? Lord knows we need more of that in our world today!
And listen, I get it. Accepting help is inherently difficult for most people, physically different or not. We perceive it to be a sign of weakness. Of vulnerability. Especially for those of us with “something to prove” (hint: we DON’T have anything to prove), accepting help can be a real blow to our ego. Honestly, that’s probably a good thing. There’s something to be said for humility and realizing we aren’t an island. I’d much prefer a community of helpers than one filled with people who are afraid to help because they might offend someone.
I worked at a hardware store when I was younger and the owners were constantly asking if they could help me carry things. It always bothered me and I never let them help me. Looking back, I realize they were just trying to help. And believe me, I know there are times when it’s appropriate to have a calm conversation with someone, especially if you have a relationship with them. My default with strangers, though, is to allow them to help.
Some might say I’m just perpetuating the stereotype that people with physical differences need help more than others. I prefer to believe that I’m reinforcing the instinct to do good unto others.
Ultimately, we’re all just trying to do our best, right?
Let’s give those who are willing to help the benefit of the doubt.
Thanks for sharing that! We’re raising a 3-year old with missing fingers and I hope she grows up with a positive attitude towards others as well. May I pose a question? Our 5 and 6 year olds were manipulating their fingers at dinner last night to try and “eat like Olivia does” using just the fingers she does. Do you think that’s insulting to her or does it help them see how well she does with her limited number of fingers? Any tips on what to say to them and also how she can respond to others especially as she gets older? Thanks for your blog!
Great question! Honestly, I bet she wouldn’t even notice (unless they said something, of course). I think as long as they aren’t rude about it and are genuinely curious, it’s totally fine. I actually love when people tell me about the experience they had while trying to do something with only one hand like me! 🙂 I think letting Olivia know that people are just curious will make it ok. Kind of like if I were to stand on a chair to see what it’s like to be tall! Which I have done, by the way. lol Thanks for the comment and question!
It is just 5 and 6 year olds being 5 and 6 year olds. Just go with the flow.
Really liked your take on the “helping thing”. As a woman and now an older woman, I often have to ask for help on some household maintenance things. Women’ lib has taught us we can do anything men can do, but in many cases, we can’t. Whether it’s a physical task or a skilled one, few people can be good at everything. Anyway, I think we all have different talents and needs, so let’s help each other when we can.
Such a great point! Thanks for sharing, Nancy!
This is a great article! I’ve been disabled (my right arm and leg just hang there because of a stroke) for approximately 8 years now and this has come up several times since then. There is a lot of people out there that see a disabled person and their automatic response is to help them! I used to get angry inside although I would smile and say thank you. But after thinking about it a lot I no longer get mad because I realize that their intention is good and I thank God for that. Can you imagine if people just carelessly scurried through life just pushing their way through no matter what is in their way? It would be horrible! Thank the Lord people look out for others. Thanks Ryan it was a great piece!
I love this!!
This reminds me of an article that has been circulating recently about the loss of “the village.” It used to be that “the village” helped raise a child, now people are more hesitant to help a mom and/or dad because it may be offensive or the wrong parenting style. Your story was a great perspective to read.
Also, wouldn’t we all love some help at airport security? Limb differences/disabilities or not? 🙂
Oh, man…so true! 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Kristen!
I agree wholeheartedly and have been through the same journey of adjusting my response.
At one of my workplaces a workmate would occasionally straighten the back of my shirt which had obviously been askew. Funny that has never happened in any other workplace despite knowing those people just as well.
Timing can be of the essence. I once ended up stuck sideways in the sliding doors of a train with another lady and my bag in between with both our hands on the handle. I had no idea she intended to help and had the plan of action all under control up to that point.
Accepting help from strangers has often led to great conversations.
Thank you for this post. I have been disabled for over 9 years now, and it has been difficult getting used to needing help from people – even from family and friends. It’s hard for me to admit that I need so much help now. So my issues have not really been with the people offering assistance, but with my feelings of helplessness in certain situations. But I really appreciate how kind people have been, and have even gotten better at asking for help when I need it. I think most people want to aid others when they can – but sometimes may be scared to, not wanting to offend someone, or may not be sure how to offer their assistance.