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.