Tag Archives: helping the common good




March 15, 2015

Knowing When to Ask for Help 

How bad does it have to be before you ask for help? Whether it’s a matter of physical pain, verbal abuse or emotional discomfort, some of us are unwilling or unable to say, “it hurts and I need help.” Maybe it’s a matter of trying to be brave and strong, or fear of being thought a sissy. In the case of bullying or abusive relationships, the victim may be threatened with worse violence if he or she tells. Or one may have a strong sense of independence and believe that things will get better by themselves. Often they get worse.

As an only child for most of my growing years, I was a lone wolf, depending on no one but myself. I learned early on that even my parents were unreliable when it came to promises and advice. Because my father was transferred frequently, we moved to a different city every three or four years. The need to make new friends kept recurring, but finding the right people in a different context always took time and didn’t always work out.

Imagine my delight in college when I discovered Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged! I also read The Fountainhead and thought I had found the perfect philosophy for my independent world view. But then a few courses later, I read Hobbes’ Leviathan and came to understand a superior idea: the social contract. It finally dawned on me that I am part of a community; that I can participate in the common good if I contribute to it and give up some independence in return for help from others.

What a brilliant notion! It underlies the concepts of local government, paying taxes, public education, police protection, garbage collection, fire protection, snow removal, public libraries, zoning and more. Of course I have to give up some things because I live in the Borough of Gettysburg: I can’t keep a goat in my back yard or burn my trash. But clearly advantages outweigh disadvantages. I get an amazing array of services in return for taxes I pay.

Most important, if I really have a problem, I can ask for help. I can call the police if harassed by a peeping tom. I can seek educational perks for a special needs child. Firemen will pump out my basement during a major downpour. In each case, it’s not difficult to know that help is needed. But it may not be so obvious if a situation develops in a family or workplace that is not life threatening but makes life uncomfortable for all concerned.

How do you know when to ask for help? If you read newspaper advice columns, you frequently see letter-writer advised to “get counseling.” When problems seem insoluble, or seriously affect the quality of one’s life, getting help is the right option. Sometimes all that is needed is a patient listener. Other times, the wisdom of an elder, a clergyperson or a mental health professional will shed light on the problem and reveal new paths. When it takes two to tango, it may require the help of a mediator to mutually untangle the situation and work out a win-win solution.

To get help from a mediator, call the MSAC help line at 717-334-7312 or e-mail mediationac@yahoo.com. Janet Powers is MSAC Presiding Officer.