Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How Many People D'You See?

For some reason – probably related to the current general state of insecurity in the world – an increasing number of my clients have been articulating satisfaction with their ability for self-sufficiency, with their reluctance to ask for help from colleagues, peers, or team members, expressing almost a sense of pride (some almost ‘wear it’ like a badge of honor). It has occurred so frequently that I am compelled to write a few words of elucidation: asking for help is not a bad thing! In fact, I have found quite the opposite, beginning with myself, many, many moons ago! I used to think that asking for help displayed weakness, incompetence; that independence and initiative couldn’t possibly coexist with needing help; and that being able to ‘do it all’ was somehow a sign of strength. How wrong I turned out to be!
We only have to look at any team sport to see how futile this thinking is (one person cannot, obviously, play a team sport) or at all the jokes and comedy sketches where a family has mother doing all the work while dad and the kids sit in front of the TV!
Passing the ball, sharing the load, asking for help, is all a part of the collaborative process. Any team is only as effective as its members’ ability to collaborate and look to each other for support; be that a sports team, a management team or a family ‘team’.
When I really got this concept for the first time, I was a young mother with a seven-year old. Her dad (who was from Trinidad and had that culture’s no-nonsense approach to parenting), one day asked our daughter:
“How many people d’you see in this house?”
She hesitated: “Three….” she tentatively ventured.
“And how many people eat the food in this house?” he continued
“Three,” she responded, looking like she knew she was being led down a path she wasn’t sure she wanted to go.
“How many people cook the food we eat?”
“One – no two,” she corrected herself, remembering that dad sometimes made breakfast.
“Hmmm. And how many people buy the food?”
“Two.” Was her sullen reply.
“How many people do you see wash the dishes, then?” There was no stopping him!
“Two.” She wriggled impatiently.
Her Dad paused for dramatic effect. Finally he said,
“D’you think that’s fair?”
Our daughter looked across at me then back at her Dad, with the look of one who has just gained a new understanding., an ‘aha!’. “No,” she said, shaking her head so her curls bounced around her now slightly more confident expression.
“So, what d’you think we should do ‘bout it?”
There was a pause.
“I can help wash the dishes?” she said with a questioning lilt.
After that, the rest was easy. She had understood that we were a team and we all needed to pitch in, without my husband (or me) ever having to preach this to her. And we never had to, ever! I on the other hand, would continue needing reminders to ask for help, and not think I could do it all (only to become resentful afterwards). The adage about old dogs & new tricks’, definitely applied to me; my daughter was a teenager – and a helpful one at that – before I ‘really ‘got it’!
Nowadays, I still witness clients (and others) struggling with the same issue – and I recognize the feeling, for a feeling it is, an actual emotional need that will only change when we identify it, acknowledge it isn’t serving us, understand and take charge of it, so that we may step up to the task of collaborating, really collaborating! The way our world is heading these days, I don’t believe there is an alternative. In the words of one of my favorite authors, Satish Kumar, “We need to have a declaration of dependence –not independence! We are all dependent on each other,…. and on the earth.” No pun intended, but the days of plowing ahead independently are over!

PS: Recommended read: Satish Kumar’s book “You Are, Therefore I Am.”

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