Sometimes the best advice to start answering complicated questions are the simple answers. It’s for that reason I want to talk about a steady piece of advice from none other than good ol’ Mr. Rogers.
Mr. Rogers told children that when they saw or felt something scary, whether it be in real life or on TV, they should “look for the helpers.”
When lost in a store, look for someone with a name badge. When passing a wreck on the highway, look for the ambulance and police officers helping the injured. Even on the playground, when feeling shy on the first day of school, look for the person who is offering you a seat at the lunch table. Knowing that these kind souls are ready and willing to help makes us feel more secure and comforted.
That is a soothing reminder for adults as well. When disaster strikes, brave people step up to help, comfort, and heal. They may be wearing surgical scrubs or safety gear. Maybe they have no formal uniform, but they wear their kindness and compassion for all to see.
You may be that person -- readily offering assistance to others. You are surely that person who needs help on tough days. The helpers (leaders, caretakers, the “rocks” we turn to when we need an anchor) need help too.
Though many “helpers” can indeed have days where they fake it ‘til they make it, in order to be there for those that reach out to them for help, they cannot themselves navigate and grow without accepting that they need help too.
In times of turmoil, there is a natural urge to show up for the people you support and put on a show of strength. But in the long run, this facade (though from the best intentions) won’t benefit the people you support or yourself. Sometimes, it can actually be more harmful.
Picture this: a parent puts on a show of resilience so that the spouse has one less person to worry about. In doing so, the spouse may feel they are failing when they don’t show up as the “rock” as well. In turn, their children may be confused as to the difference in display of emotion, or may take on the habit of the parent who masks their true emotions for the sake of others.
In doing so, the whole family unit is engaging in silent assumption—the breeding ground for misunderstanding.
Instead, what would happen if the whole family showed up honestly every day? Would the more “stoic” partner be seen as weak for not putting on a show? Or would that vulnerability demonstrate the honesty of their situation, demonstrate that it is enough to show up as you are, as the helper or not?
Could silent assumptions accidentally double the heartache and worry, or would they come to realize that they strengthen one another just by showing up with whatever emotions they had that day? That the hope that they borrowed from one another could now multiply?
When we connect with each other honestly, despite the roles we’ve come to believe we must play in the world, we divide the sorrow and multiply the joy.
Show up as you are. Nothing more, nothing less. That is how we can all be helpers.
This is a modified re-telling of a few pages from Chapter 14 of my book Never Waste a Crisis. The rest of that chapter and our newsletter in the following weeks digs into the real ways we can address the empty parts of our lives: the spaces left by loss, and how to fill them.
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