I have been editing my novel manuscript for the zillionth time and came across an observation by my female protagonist that applies to me. When it comes to help, I will accept from friends what I will not accept from family making me a hypocrite. I thought it might be a refreshing change to delve into one of my many flaws. I am sure rationalizations of my behavior will abound.
First, how about some examples which for the sake of simplicity, I will limit to the period I’ve been totally blind – about thirteen years. One summer, I was standing before a cutting board with a roasted turkey breast upon it and a sharp knife in my hand when my grandmother came into the kitchen. “Oh, Jen, let me slice that.”
“No thanks, Grandma, I got it.”
“It will just take me a minute.”
“No, Grandma, it’s fine. Besides, who do you think does this sort of thing when I’m alone in my apartment?”
“Oh, I don’t know how you live by yourself. It’s so amazing.”
On the other hand, if one of my meat-eating friends happened to walk into the kitchen while I was hacking at a turkey breast, I might actually say, “Hey, you do this. I’m going to make a mess of it.”
Now let us move to the realm of navigation. When I first lost my sight, my family was rather insistent that I travel sighted guide. I was equally insistent I go it alone. Drove my family nuts. My friends were much more flexible about this. In fact, to this day friends from that period are the only people able to guide me by words alone without me harming myself.
After a time, I went sighted guide with my friends when it was practical and my choice. Nobody ever insisted, although sometimes they explained the current challenge so I could make an informed choice. It has not been until recently that I have willingly and without resentment taken the elbow of a member of my family.
My sisters are very fashion-conscious and have taken it upon themselves to advise me about what I wear. I have been known to ask for such input, but mostly it is unsolicited. Since we have very different goals – I want it to feel good on me and they want it to look good on me – there is often conflict. The phrase, “But, Jen, we can see what looks good and you can’t,” has been uttered countless times. Frustration is felt by everyone involved. In the past two years, one has mostly given up and the other has taken a new approach which probably involves a lot of eye rolling, but see no eye rolls know no eye rolls.
On the other hand, I ask my friends how things look all the time. In fact, last summer we went through my entire closet and if the two advising people said “get rid of it,” I chose to heed the advice. I don’t think I have actually bought a piece of clothing that feels uncomfortable to wear, but on friend’s advice I have bought out of my style comfort zone multiple times.
So, the question at hand is this: If the act is the same, does the helper’s approach to it truly matter? Since I am on the receiving end of the act packaged with the approach, I cannot be completely objective. There is only one category of situation where I could care less about how aid is given. Last summer, I started across a street only to be grabbed by a man and pulled back. It was inelegant and without warning, but saved me from becoming road pizza. I will forego critiquing approach if it keeps me safe.
Now watch as the justification of my hypocrisy unfolds. Usually, approach matters to me for like most I prefer being treated respectfully. Among other things, this includes not being pushed into letting someone do what I am already doing, choices not being forced upon me, and my opinion not being dismissed as less worthy of consideration. I don’t think the fact that I need the aid means I must take the help however it is given. Perhaps family dynamics play a role in making me feel less comfortable with their approach. Possibly I am ungrateful. Certainly I am defying the expression “beggars can’t be choosers.” Whatever the case, unlike Machiavelli, I do not think the ends justifies the means, unless it is a situation of avoiding bodily harm. Then “save me” always supersedes “respect me.”
I believe this makes me a hypocrite. After all, my family is simply trying to help and what I see as lacking in respect is not meant that way. Shouldn’t I take needed help and put my pride and ego aside? Don’t their good intentions count for anything? Shouldn’t I appreciate more and judge less?
The reality is that I can live with the hypocrisy far better than I can live with approaches that don’t feel respectful. At its route, this is my choice and I own it though not exactly pridefully. If I could wave a magic wand and always be helped in ways that I like, my hypocrisy would vanish. Then again, if I had that magic wand I’d just wave it and the thing needing help would be accomplished in a puff of smoke.