Monday, July 6, 2009

Asking for Help- the Other Side of Volunteering

I heard a wise phrase the other day: "in every moment, you are either serving or being served." The give and take, or giving and receiving, is a constant balance of life. How often to you serve others, and how often do you allow others to serve you? Is it easier for you to give than to receive?

In my last column, I asked the question of "Why Don't We Volunteer?" And issued a Dare to Care as a means to challenge all of us to get out of our routine, and lend a hand to help support President Obama's United We Serve campaign. Today, I'd like to explore the topic of volunteering from a larger perspective. The other side of volunteering is asking for help. Today, more and more Americans need help - in big ways and small, and asking...... well, is not so easy.

I stumbled across a fantastic example of this blend of giving and receiving, in William Brandon Shanley's grassroots company: Give, Get, Share. His slogan is a mathematical equation: +Give -Get = Share. His site claims,
"We're a gifts and wishes pool. We match resources with needs. We organize goods, services, people power, brainpower, and the indomitable human spirit and make them available to everyone for free. As a public service. To help people. To enhance life. To save the Earth."


This site is undergoing a retooling to make it even more user friendly. Shanley said, "Give Get Share is about values fulfillment of knowledge, inspiration, professional services or the arts. You can be a millionaire in Miami and be lonely, and ashamed of your loneliness. But to a family of five, who are needing a grandparent, it is a gift."

Currently, there are more Americans living alone than any time in history. According to the General Social Survey from Duke University, 25% of Americans have had no one to discuss important life matters with in the last six months. The idea of success being tied to self reliance is strong, and asking for help is a sign of weakness - at what cost to us all?

President Obama has declared there are "too many jobs lost," with unemployment rates climbing ever higher. When the statistic becomes a reality, the emotions of frustration, anger, shame, depression and fear preclude the ability to access resources needed to maneuver through the tidal waves. "There's nothing anyone can do," is the easy answer. Yet, maybe someone can lend a hand, pitch in, make you laugh, and ease the burden just a tiny bit - if you just ask.

Greg Cortopassi, founder of Launch Your Dreams, is a career and life coach, who offers the idea of service as a 'life skill' that has to be exercised like a muscle; and the act of contributing and receiving is something we are always doing. The better we become at serving, and allowing ourselves to be served, the greater our capacity for joy in life.

"Many people view the idea of service or contribution as something that comes from a feeling of guilt or obligation to their work, families or communities. Most people perceive that they are just not the "volunteer types," don't get involved unless they have to, and then the act of serving is half-hearted," he explained. "If we hold a perspective that anyone on our path is an opportunity to serve, then it doesn't become conditional or loaded. On the flip side, if we can't receive when someone or something is trying to serve us, it also blocks the flow."


There is a balance in serving and being served. Some of us are better at one than another. Here's a simple example. If someone pays you a compliment, how often are you tempted to either discount it, or quickly offer another one back as a hot potato toss? Come on, admit it. One of those, 'You look great today,' followed by an instant: 'thanks, so do you!' Someone was making an attempt to serve, in a simple and lovely way. Why is it so hard to simply say, "Thank you," and receive?

The fear of opening our hearts to others, being vulnerable, being 'seen' is one of the culprits to the rising feelings of loneliness, isolation and disconnection in the United States. Despite the assurances the recession is slowing down, many folks on Main Street have not seen the tidal waters receding, and the riptides are moving the shoreline farther and farther out of reach. When people are flailing to stay above water, asking for help is not always on the top of their minds. People are losing their homes, downsizing, coping with job loss, holding off on college and giving up stress relieving vacations.

It is time to move aside the fabricated curtain of "everything's fine" syndrome. The other side of volunteering is allowing someone to help you, to keep you company, to care about you. This weekend, we are celebrating our nation's birthday. Every American is a star on the flag. Every stripe binds and connects us together. Our nation became the mighty power it is by individuals taking turns serving one another, and being served in turn.

As we blow out the candles on our nation's birthday cake, consider: How do you serve your country each day? Do you respect and care for the environment that surrounds us? Do you participate in civic duties? Do you support local businesses and buy American made products? It feels good to serve, so find a way to do so that seems right to you, and be conscious of your action.

How do you serve your fellow Americans? Do you know someone who is coping with cancer, lost a job, or is down and out, who could use a hug, a kind word or a referral for a job lead? Serving them in turn serves our country, and helps you forget about your own troubles for awhile.

How does our country serve you each day? Do you enjoy full access to topics from Iran to Michael Jackson without fear of retribution? Do you enjoy the free speech and citizen journalism of places like the Huff Po? Do you walk the streets freely, without seeing machine gun clad military patrols? How about walking into a grocery story with 200 different kinds of cereal to choose from? Take a moment to reflect, and just to receive. To say, "thank you" for all the goods and services that are so readily available in this nation of bounty.

How have your fellow American's served you? Have you been touched by someone or something that took you by surprise? Have you felt truly supported by your co-workers, neighbors or friends when you really needed help? Take a moment to gather in your mind the faces of the ones you love. Inwardly thank them for serving you, even if you forgot to acknowledge their actions. Every hand counts, as we come together this Independence Day holiday, and a chain is much stronger than a single link.

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