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Thursday, April 11, 2013


I watched this very inspiring Ted Talk this morning as I drank my coffee and there was so much in it that spoke to me.  Many many thanks to Jacques who passed it along.

In it Amanda Palmer, a musician, talks about the Art of Asking.  As she started her music career she supplemented her income as a street performer, a profession many consider to be akin to begging.  When her band took off she made a decision to put all her music on-line for free and to ask her fans to support her work.  They came through.  She preferred this to the time where she was working under a label and her music was sold on the marketplace.  It's about trust, she said.  She freely distributes her music and trusts that her fans will be there to make it possible for her to continue doing what she loves.  A better way, she said, because it creates a connection between her and them.

There are a lot of cultural and psychological barriers to asking people for things.  To some it feels like begging.  Makes you vulnerable especially when you don't have something tangible to offer in return.  I have an elderly  family member here in France who slipped on the train and broke her shoulder.  She got back on the train and when she got home, she went to bed and didn't call a doctor until the following morning.  She was in terrible pain the entire time but that was preferable, she said, to "bothering" someone by asking for help.

Recently I had a phone conversation with a fellow breast cancer patient.  She was having a very hard time and a mutual acquaintance of ours was calling her and offering to help.  She was very divided about accepting.  I don't want to "bother" her, she said, or take up too much of her time.  The person offering help also has cancer and my friend thought it was a bit much to ask her to help her with her problems.

Sometimes when I attend my AA in Paris I share about my recovery and my cancer.  They get to hear a lot about my fears that I will drink again, that I will get bad news from my oncologist and that I will die much sooner than I would like.  I often cry in these meetings.  But as I head home sometimes I say to myself, "Oh Good Lord, that was a really depressing share I gave today" and I feel bad for inflicting it on people who came to be inspired, not depressed.

These kinds of self-doubts come from distorted thinking.  We assume that we know what others are feeling and we make a decision or a judgment for them.  We don't trust them to take care of us if we ask, even if they tell us directly that they want to help.  We don't believe them.   Not entirely.  "She's just trying to be kind" and "she doesn't really mean it." Another part of  it is our ego that says "I don't want to be someone who has to be helped."

When we do this we deprive them and ourselves of a very human connection.  We lack the courage to put ourselves in what feels like a very vulnerable and uncomfortable position.  We assume that those we think about asking for help are lying or untrustworthy or "bothered" by our requests.

A chance to help someone else is not so much an imposition as it is a way for us to say, "I trust you."  In return the people who helps get a real gift - a chance to use their skills, talents or time to make a difference in someone's life.  Takes the person helping out of his or her own head and almost always makes that person feel good.  It's incredibly powerful among us cancer patients because it's a virtuous circle.  We may be really really sick but a half hour spent with someone who is even sicker or depressed or who just needs some comfort can make our day and give us courage to meet our own challenges.  We may be stuck on the couch at home recovering from chemo but we still have purpose, work to do right here, right now.  We can help someone else and that makes all the difference in the world.

After a meeting this week where I talked and cried, a woman came up to me after the meeting, said some words of comfort and then pulled a small slightly tattered card out of her wallet.  "Here," she said, "I want you to have this."  This is what the card says:
Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.  When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation - some fact of my life unacceptable to me and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at that moment.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God's world by mistake;  unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy.  I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.
It made my day.  Even if you don't agree with what the card says (and I do agree with it) the act of giving and getting the card created an incredibly powerful connection between the two of us at that moment.  She is a complete stranger to me (I don't even know her name) and yet she took the time in response to something I offered (my talk) to find something she had that helped her in the past and to pass it along to me.  As Palmer said, it's about putting yourself out there and trusting that someone will catch you before you fall.  Her talk made me realize that one the attitudes I need to change in me is to be even more willing to put myself out there, to share and to ask others for help without feelings of guilt or remorse or doubt, and without treating those who offer help as slightly suspicious until proven otherwise.  That path didn't fail me this week and no reason to think it will fail me in the future.

Enjoy the Ted Talk.


Anonymous said...

the story of your relative is sad, but the real tragedy is that so many people do not know how to give. Many persons (myself included) do not want to be net "takers", the proper solution is not less "asking" but more giving

Anonymous said...

There is something a bit too staged about Ms Palmer's "asking". It seems she is very clever in raising funds for her own selfish purposes. Nothing very noble about that.
Now, if it was Victoria Ferauge asking, then I would perk up, listen and do whatever I could to comply and more. It would be an honor to be asked. It is an act of faith, an act of trust.