The Big Issue : Edition 498
THE BIG ISSUE 13 – 26 NOV 2015 29 culture police Fiona Scott-Norman ILLUSTRATIONBYGREGBAKES;ORIGINALPHOTOGRAPHBYMILESSTANDISH WHY APOLOGISE WHEN YOU COULD GRACIOUSLY ACCEPT A HELPING HAND? NO HARM IN ASKING the prospect of being rejected. Amanda Palmer writes up a storm about this in her book The Art of Asking, which details how she learned to allow people to help her. To trust. It’s an illuminating read. And I will just add – come on peeps – it’s basic maths. Balancing the equation. We all love the warm inner glow of giving, of being that guy, so how can it be demeaning to give people the opportunity to feel wanted, connected and useful? How many times have you said this: “Why didn’t you ask, you idiot?” But we don’t. We overvalue independence instead. I swore by it, of course, as a young woman. I was buggered if I’d ask anyone for help. I lived alone, painted my own flat, bought my own fags, earned my own living, clambered under my Austin 1800 to whack the starter motor with a spanner whenever it froze, and always had a cat because dogs were waaaay too needy. You could have accurately filed my independence under ‘fierce’. It took me decades to realise that never asking for anything kept me isolated. The human condition is to feel wanted and useful, so if you never need anything, well, cue your loved ones feeling as valuable as Peter Garrett’s hairdresser. In New Orleans one of my Airbnb hosts was a middle-aged black guy called Pops. He lives in Tremé, a block from where he was born, and he fixes things for the neighbourhood. Anything. Everything. Want your blinds hung? Your barbecue fired up? Your garden lopped? Your plumbing sorted? Call Pops. Everyone depends on him. He’s the heart of the community, and he’s the happiest man alive. In New Orleans there’s no shame in asking for help, because the city is built on slavery, poverty and disaster. Asking for help and getting it is a blessing. It’s survival. It’s love. We all need to get over ourselves. So approach your neighbour, your colleague, your family, that old lady who lives down the street, and say, “Excuse me, would you mind...?” Once they’ve worked out you’re not a shill for a charity they’ll be thrilled. Make someone’s day; need them. And if they offer you a beverage, you know what to do. ONE OF MY more frequent, least favourite, conversations goes like this: Me (in my kitchen, to a friend): “Fancy a beverage? Tea? Coffee?” Guest (pained expression): “Only if it’s no trouble.” Me (attempting to fulfil my primal urges as a hostess): “No trouble at all. What would you prefer?” Guest (flapping hands): “Whichever is easiest.” Me (losing will to live): “They’re all easy. I have regular coffee, decaf, black tea, Earl Grey, 18 herbals, cow milk and soy. What would you like?” Guest (crinkles nose, tries to look cute): “What are you having? I don’t want to put you out.” Me (reaching for blunt object): “You’re not. Just tell me what you want to fucking drink.” It is one of the great paradoxes of the world that hardly anyone is more bothersome than the person who “doesn’t want to be a bother”. You know who you are. I get that you’re being polite but, sweet baby Jesus, no one has time for this. Any host worth their salt wants to give you what you actually want, not engage in an endless self-effacing guessing game, which leads to them wanting to stove your head in with their espresso machine. And if I’ve offered you a lift, and you’ve told me where you live, just say “thank you” and direct me to your house. Do not, at regular intervals, say, “I don’t want to put you out. Just drop me here, late at night, at this random intersection that is clearly a long way from my destination.” Why would I do that? Nothing sucks the joy out of a gesture like being second, third and fourth-guessed on it. Yes, unless you actually live in my house, it’s going to “put me out” to drive you home. Guess what? I know, and I offered anyway. As you’d know, doing a favour is a pleasure. What the hell happened to people saying, “I really appreciate it,” and turning the conversation to how fetching I’m looking this evening? No one, apparently, knows how to accept hospitality or ask for favours any more. Everyone wants to be the helper; no one wants to be the helpee. We are ashamed to need anything, terrified of being a burden, mortified at » For virtually more FSN, visit fionascottnorman.com.au or follow her on Twitter @FScottNorman.