An undervalued skill – in memory of Emma
March 20, 2012 Nancy Slessenger This entry was posted in Change management, Communication, Emotional Intelligence, Leaderhip skills, Management Skills and tagged change management, Emma Slessenger, help, receiving help. Bookmark the permalink.
I recently heard a programme about people in Japan who are having the deal with the aftermath of the devastation there, both from the Tsunami and from the nuclear fallout.
In a small village the survivors are rebuilding their homes and lives. But because of a strong culture on the etiquette of giving and receiving, not everyone is willing to accept help.
They believe that you must always give something in return for anything you receive. (Of course, this is how society works in the main.)
Unfortunately there are times when you are simply not in a position to give anything in return, but you still need help.
This week would have been the 54th birthday of my dear cousin, Emma. Sadly she passed away before she could celebrate it.
There were so many things to admire about Emma. She never forgot a birthday and was immensely thoughtful in her presents. Even as she lay on her deathbed, she sent us a card enclosing a cheque. In the card apologised for not being able to buy us a present for our wedding anniversary.
She was always the one to help everyone else when they needed it, in her pragmatic and down-to-earth way.
She had an amazing memory, a ready wit, a needle sharp intellect, and huge generosity – I could go on. But I am going to focus on a particular skill often ignored.
Asking for and receiving help
It’s often very hard, when you have been independent and supremely capable for most of your life, to realise that the time has come to ask for help.
In her illness and Emma let us all help her and made it easy for us to do so.
The ability to recognise that the situation has changed and that you must change your strategy is quite rare. It’s even more difficult when there are cultural rules and norms telling you the opposite.
In this situation as in every other, she was completely practical. When she was first ill, she sent emails asking if anyone had CDs of her favourite books she could borrow to make the chemotherapy more bearable. This gave the rest of us an opportunity to do something we knew would be of value. I have no doubt she received many.
When I met some of her lovely colleagues at the funeral I was able to find out more about her work. Not surprisingly, much of it involved helping others. She would give them advice in the complex legal matters in which she was an expert.
Even in this extremely difficult situation, she quipped merrily about no longer having to worry out all the problems with her pension. She was a tremendous example to those of us who get a bit grumpy at the slightest excuse.
She did, of course, have weaknesses. One of them (which I share – it must be genetic) was for puddings. So I smuggled in some of Waitrose’s finest, which we happily dug in to together in her last weeks.
How she remained resolutely slim all her life is quite beyond me.
Some seem to regard accepting help as a weakness and would never dream of asking for help for themselves, instead struggling needlessly with problems that could be easily solved.
Perhaps this is because some people think that you should be able to do everything yourself. Or it may be because we sometimes regard those who take without giving as scroungers. (And I’m sure there are cases when this is true.)
However, we also need to recognise that there are times when accepting help is the right thing to do, and refusing help is an injury to all concerned.
Asking for help
And there are also times when asking for help is the right and most sensible thing to do.
Yes, of course it is always good to give something in return, but when you have nothing concrete to give, allowing others to give is, in itself, your gift. Its value may be greater than you imagine.
In memory of Emma Jane Slessenger 1958 – 2012
“Where shall we see a better daughter, or a kinder sister, or a truer friend?” Jane Austen “Emma”.