The art of accepting help

Yesterday I saw a young kid break his arm. The difference between his attitude, and his father’s attitude, demonstrated to me a very valuable lesson in humility and the art of accepting help.

I was following Michael down a mountain bike trail in Hinterglemm, Austria. It’s summer time here, and in the winter these slopes become ski hills. So you can use the chairlifts to head up the mountain, and concentrate on the fun, fast descent back down.

Ahead of Michael I could see a kid who looked to be in his early teens. We gradually caught up with him and were following reasonably close down the trail. It was my first time down this trail, so I felt a slight pang of relief when I saw Michael stopping ahead of me and I decided to stop before I hit the large banked wooden berm, which dropped down into a slightly loose section of track. Phew, I thought – I can walk it without feeling guilty!

Check out about 3.40 into this video – that’s the spot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBqlphQi0tI

However I soon realised he’d stopped because the rider in front of him had gone down. It looked like a fairly minor stack into some nice soft foliage, but it quickly became apparent that the boy was hurt. We lifted his bike off him and could fairly quickly guess that his arm was broken.

He was talking in what I guessed was German, and as we talked back to him he quickly realised we were speaking English and switched to our language. After we got his bike off him, and in between grunts and cries of pain and shock, he kept saying “Thank you for helping me, thank you”. I realised that he was no more than twelve, possibly younger, and was not coping well with the pain of the injury.

We looked down the track and saw a middle-aged man who had stopped. I took a guess, and yelled, “Your child?? Kind??” (Thanks to the world of Kinder Surprise, I could take a stab at the German for “child”!). He soon started walking back up the track, and helped us lift his boy out of the way of other riders. We talked and realised that his wife, a doctor, was following them down the trail and should be there soon to take a look. However the swelling and apparent bend in his forearm made it pretty clear what had happened.

By the time his mother arrived, several people had stopped to check everything was ok and to ask if they could assist. The poor kid was in pain and making a fair bit of noise – as one would do when they snap their forearm.

So we now had one child in a lot of pain and shock, one mother supporting him (because it was very apparent he was going to have a hard time walking down the uneven, steep track from here), and one father. Each had a bike, so that meant three bikes to get down the hill, and only the father to walk them down. I don’t care how good your bike skills are, or how strong you are, but walking three mountain bikes down a trail is pretty much impossible. 

Michael and I offered to take some of the bikes down the hill (we could each have walked two, and everyone could have headed down quickly). The father replied, “No, it’s ok. I can take them”. I offered again, saying “3 bikes! That’s a lot, are you sure? We really don’t mind”, but he was adamant. Perhaps he didn’t want to impose, but either way he chose not to accept the help. He also declined the offers of other riders who stopped and offered to call for help, or to ride down and get someone to come up and assist.

So eventually we decided to leave them to it, as it was apparent we could do no more. As we left, the child, who was now down to barely a whine, said again “Thank you for your help”. And away we went.

We rode to the bottom of the mountain, which was still a fair way yet. We then got in the cable car and went back up to the top, and began the run back down again. It was at least an hour after the crash when we reached the spot where the boy had gone down. To my dismay, the child and his mum were still sitting on the side of the track, with two mountain bikes.

I pulled over to check in and see how he was doing. By this stage he wasn’t talking at all, and he looked pretty worn out, pale and uncomfortable. His mum was cradling him and looking pretty worn out herself.

She explained that her husband had decided to ride down (obviously having determined that walking three bikes was not going to happen), was going to find the boys older brother, have him walk back up the mountain and then the father and the older brother could ride the other two bikes back down, while mum and the injured child walked down the mountain. I could see that mum didn’t think this was such a marvelous plan, while her child lay injured on the side of the track.

While the delay may not have had any serious consequences on the child’s treatment or recovery, it was clearly not a pleasant situation and one that could have been lessened by simply accepting some help. I know if I had been that child, I would want to be anywhere except lying on the side of the track, while so many people had offered their assistance to get me out of their much quicker. I would feel a little frustrated that my father had been so quick to decline any assistance and had felt the need to do it all himself.

It made me wonder at the almost instinctive reaction we as humans can have to decline help, particularly from strangers. What is it that makes us feel we cannot ‘impose’ on others, when we clearly have some level of need and others have offered their assistance. In fact in many cases, people really want to help and the greater level of good and satisfaction would be achieved by accepting the proffered help.

I had this very conversation with a friend who was going through her first pregnancy. It was a tough journey for her, with severe morning sickness and fatigue that prevented her from doing much for many months. She said she found it hard to accept help from people, but soon came to realise that people wanted to help, and that it truly was no imposition. In fact, by accepting the help, she gave those people an opportunity to do their ‘good deed’ and to experience the joy that comes with reaching out to another.

I believe that accepting help is an art. It can be difficult to see our own vulnerability and need, particularly when reflected to us from another person. However it we acknowledge that assistance almost always comes from a good place in the other person, and that we can in fact do them a service by accepting their help, then perhaps we will be more likely to humble ourselves and partake of their generosity.

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3 thoughts on “The art of accepting help

  1. Great post Jen! Reminds me of some of the material Charles Eisenstein covers in Sacred Economics, particularly in relation to comparing traditional gift economies with our secular economies.

    It seems like our relationship to money and our reluctance to borrow or want to be in debt to others also affects our view in relation to accepting gifts and assistance from others.

  2. Very pleasant to read, what a story! I’m not so good at asking for help but in a situation like that one, I wouldn’t hesitate…the poor boy.

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