Helping Others: Can You Dish It Out But Not Take It?

Dammit! The “check engine” and “problem” alerts flashed again on the screen. My 2007 Prius is an excellent car, but at almost 300,000 miles and counting, we wouldn’t normally be surprised when an occasional issue pops up.

However, this time we were. It passed inspection last week and supposedly had some minor problems solved. We drove it 3 hours to the beach a few days later and left it sit idle in front of our rented house; a 10 day vacation for both our family and our car.

But now, 30 minutes into a 3 hour drive home, the same old things were happening.  The LCD screen was lit up with that dreaded, neon orange exclamation point encased in a neon orange triangle.  The word “problem” settled itself across the top of the screen.  The loud, clear beep of the alert made it seem like we should evacuate the vehicle.

Not sure if this was a real emergency or an over-sensitive sensor, we pulled off the road and into the parking lot of a nice, new convenience store. We hadn’t noticed parking right next to a very well-kept, Tweety Bird- yellow Corvette.

As my wife and I got out of the car and looked under the hood for clues, a young couple in their early 20’s exited the store and headed toward their sweet Corvette. Seeing our predicament, the guy asked if he could help us at all.

Before I could say anything, he told us that he’s a car enthusiast that enjoys fixing up old models as well as new. He pointed to the Corvette he practically rebuilt, and rattled off a list of pretty serious tools he had in his trunk, just in case anyone would ever need them.

Wow! How do you argue with that? My wife and I know nothing about cars and mechanicals, and out walks this guy at the perfect time!

He was eager to help us, and we needed it.

Turns out our unexpected, new mechanic was stationed at a nearby Air Force base with his girlfriend. And if he and the others weren’t flying planes, they were….working on their cars.

It also turns out that our new friend really did have some serious auto-shop tools in his rebuilt Corvette.  He ran a bunch of tests on our car, checked out several other things, made an educated guess at the problem, and actually fixed it!  Apparently something needed to be reset and the fact that it wasn’t was causing certain sensors to panic for no reason.

He spent about 20 minutes working on our Prius, while my wife and his girlfriend talked about kids, hometowns, and the obsessive hobbies of their men.

When everything was finished, I offered to pay our helper, or at least to buy him beer from the store we were parked in front of, but he politely refused.  Saying he was just glad to help, he shook my hand, got into his sports car and revved the engine.

My wife and I drove the rest of the way home with gratitude, but without any more car problems.

It was fun seeing how much the man enjoyed working on our car, not just for the mechanical adventure, but because he truly enjoyed helping others. He’s not alone. Most people do enjoy being able to help those in need. It feels good to do good.

But in order for help to be given, help must be accepted. 

What if I had refused our mechanic friend’s offer and forged ahead on my own?  It would have been stupid of course, but I wonder how often in life we do things just like that.

Are we comfortable giving help but uneasy receiving it?  Even if, like us that night, we really need it?

Are you fond of grabbing the check at dinner with friends but feisty when they try to pay for your meal?

There are probably people in your life for whom you would drop everything to help, at great inconvenience to yourself. But, should you need help from them, would you make it worse by waiting to call them for fear of being a bother?

I’m curious about how people feel about these things because I grew up in a family of helpers that often resisted being helped.  I don’t know if that was just prideful family members trying to “out-nice each other”, or if this is something people really struggle with.

Had our mechanic friend and I treated each other the way my aunts treated each other when I was a kid, I would have demanded that he accept a few 20’s for his help.  When he refused, I would insist again, dumping the money into his car just as he closed the door.  He would probably have pulled out of the parking space, rolled down the window and threw the money back at me before speeding off.  I would pick it up, put it in an envelope and mail it to him if I had his address.

Crazy, right?  

My aunts wanted to be helpers, not receivers of help, but my wife and I felt pretty good as we drove home that night in a car that someone we didn’t know repaired for free.

Even though it often feels better to give help than to receive, receiving with gratitude is pretty good too. Let’s strive to be good at both.

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26 thoughts on “Helping Others: Can You Dish It Out But Not Take It?

  1. Great post Todd. Ultimately I don’t think we can be helped (get the help we need) unless we are willing to ask/accept it. That’s harder to do when it means letting go of your pride.

      1. I went through a big depression years ago and the worst part was just before I admitted that I needed help. After that, things started heading the right direction.

      2. Great story, Todd, and told very well too. I totally relate to your story. I’ve long felt weird receiving help from others. (Heck, I even feel weird when people give me gifts on my birthday or during Christmas.) I suppose this is somehow rooted in my psychology that was shaped in my formative years. So many of us of a certain age–I’m not telling you exactly how old I am–were told that we needed to be self-sufficient. That we needed to try not be a burden to others. My dad was the sort who would rarely ask for help and would stubbornly attempt to figure things out himself–I’m certain you know the sort. Such a way of being in the world is so deeply inculcated in many of us. So your message is fresh and unique. The cliche is that it is “better to give than receive,” but the really unique message is that we need to work on being better at getting too. Thanks.

        Oh, yes, and one more thing. You tell the story of amazing luck. May a little of that rub off on me!

      3. You said I might know the sort of people like your dad- I doโ€ฆ my parents ๐Ÿ˜ They are very reluctant when it comes to asking for help or having anything given to them. Thanks for reading and commenting- and may a ton of good luck fall upon you๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I love this story! Very well told! I am at an age where I require more and more help with just simple everyday tasks and I had a difficult time asking people to help me. Being divorced in 1987 and living on my own since then has fostered a very independent spirit. But I have learned that every one needs help every now and then. As we age, “every now and then” happens more and more often. Asking for help doesn’t imply weakness, but rather the recognition of a limitation.

  3. Love this story and post, Todd! I recognize some of my family members in the descriptions of your aunts. And I have also struggled with accepting help feeling like I needed to prove some point that I could be independent. But in learning how to simply say “yes,” I’ve found that delightful sense of community that results that you describe so well in your piece. Thank you for this post!

  4. I learned in life that it is always better to ask for help than finding yourself in a no end situation, like the one of your post. I would to park the car the best way I can, and call the insurance to bring me another one. But there is something I would relate to your post, receiving a compliment. When for instance someone tells me that I wear a very nice dress, I would say – oh itโ€™s an old one – or – It was so cheap – as if I would diminish the value of the compliment itself. Actually itโ€™s because I feel embarrassed and I do know how to receive a compliment, when only thank you would be enough. Thank you for the beautiful reading Todd!

    1. Thank you for reading! I also struggle with how to receive a compliment gracefully, especially when it comes to my musical work- Iโ€™m always thinking it should have been better

  5. This story lines up perfectly with the book I am currently reading about the decency of people. You are right, people want to do good but we often prevent them from doing so. Thank you for sharing.

  6. What an excellent post, Todd; thank you for sharing it with us. I’m glad that your Toyota Prius got fixed. I also like the points that you raised about being open to accepting the good that is trying to make its way to us. I love a saying from Bob Proctor, who was a noted teacher of the law of attraction. He said: “We must generously give and graciously receive.” We know how good it feels to give. What I keep in mind these days is that if I refuse someone’s offer of help, I am actually depriving them of that good feeling associated with helping. You raised such great insights!

    1. Thanks Arthur! I like how you described refusing to accept help as depriving givers. Itโ€™s true- both parties benefit well from offers of help. Thanks for reading!

      1. You’re welcome, Todd! The point about accepting from others was overlooked by me for many years; but now I realize its importance.

        I’ll be looking forward to your next post!

  7. Very good point! I was thinking, as I read about you driving away feeling gratitude, I would probably be feeling guilty or something similar, and I realised what a waste of an opportunity to feel gratitude! Thanks for this ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Help should be graciously accepted. I have always liked the concept of “pay it forward.” That is a way to make the world a more hospitable and friendly place for all of us. Have a great day, Todd!

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