Asking Is Connecting

Asking Is ConnectingRecently I read The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer. If you’re not familiar with her, Palmer is a Boston-area musician and in 2013 gave a very popular TED talk about what it means to ask for help. I remember her from my days as a Harvard undergraduate, when she earned a living as a human bride statue (of course, I had no idea who she was at the time, but she was very memorable!).

I didn’t know what to expect from her book, but it came highly recommended to me. I was surprised and touched to see that at the core of Palmer’s arguments about the importance of asking for help was the very same phenomenon I found in my research with firefighters. The firefighters I talked to found meaning in their work when they connected with other people. Likewise, Palmer believes that asking other people for help is really about making oneself vulnerable and allowing a connection to happen. She writes:

When you are looked at, your eyes can stay blissfully closed. You suck energy, you steal the spotlight. When you are seen, your eyes must be open, as you are seeing and recognizing your witness. You accept energy and you generate energy. You create light.

One is exhibitionism, the other is connection.

Not everybody wants to be looked at.

Everybody wants to be seen.

Compare that to the firefighter I interviewed whose wife learned of his heroism when the woman he had rescued thanked him at dinner. The woman’s thanks allowed the firefighter’s wife to really see him in a way she doesn’t usually get to. It served as a window into a part of this man’s identity that was normally off-limits to his wife and family. I wrote,

Imagine having this kind of a connection in your life—a person who brings out the best in you and helps you share that with someone else.

Palmer would, I believe, say that this connection allowed the firefighter to be really seen.

-Asking for help requires authenticityThere’s something lovely in the idea that asking and helping is a bridge to forge connections between people. It creates new possibilities for relationships; I may not have something you need right now to help you, but by asking for your help for myself I can bring us closer together. In fact, Palmer argues (and I agree) that becoming vulnerable by asking is incredibly difficult, probably more difficult than providing help to someone. It may make it easier to take the risk of asking for help if you know the benefits include this shared energy, this stronger relationship.

Everybody wants to be seen.

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