Ask for What you Need and Offer What You Can
by Christina Baldwin, Island Senior Resources Board member
This phrase is an instruction and invitation to social exchange that lies at the core of village life. We think it’s so important we’re framing this year’s articles around this concept and the ways we practice the reciprocity of asking and offering: the ways we take care of one another.
Asking for what we need and offering what we can, especially in the context of community, is part of what makes us feel at home. “People on the island are so nice,” is an often-heard reference among visitors and newcomers. “People being nice,” is often a code phrase meaning, “someone noticed and helped me.” Someone we didn’t even know helped us reach for a high object on a store shelf, or opened the door when they saw us coming with arms full; gave me directions, talked with me at the coffee shop, etc. Looking up and noticing and taking a few extra seconds to ask and offer weaves a sense of belonging. The exchange of smiles and words of appreciation makes everyone feel good.
There are also times we walk or drive around our familiar patterns of daily busyness and are not paying much attention to the folks around us. We hurry to get errands done on our lunch hour from work or get home in time to pick up the kids from the school bus, or catch a phone call, or get the laundry out before it’s a wrinkled tangled mess. When we are in this mode, we assume others are on similar tracks, and we assume if they need something they’ll ask. We’d ask. Wouldn’t we? Yes. No. Maybe. Maybe not.
Asking for help is often steadily ground out of us from childhood on. You can do it, just keep trying. Tie your own shoes, put your dishes in the sink, make your bed. Be a man. Be a big girl. “I can do it myself,” becomes a phrase heard from preschool to senior centers.
Offering to help also gets complicated. Most people want independence. Offering in a friendly manner, assuming basic equality of personhood, balances the exchange. (“Here, grandma, let me open that pickle jar. And then will you help me with my knitting?”) We all need help: we all have something to offer.
When an environment of exchange extends into social connections, organizations, and communities, the village functions well. A healthy community is constantly paying it both backward and forward, creating a circle of reciprocity. We help the folks who need a hand in the moment, and trust that someone will be there when we need help—whether it is a momentary wobble and need for a stabilizing hand, or a sudden illness or accident that shifts us from the assister to the assisted.
Standing on a forty+ year history of practicing “ask for what you need and offer what you can,” Island Senior Resources has created a core organization at the heart of our island community. As we head into the new year and the theme of this year’s articles, we want to offer the idea of asking and offering as part of the energy of resolution and intention that comes with January. We designed a few simple questions on “asking for what we need,” and defining “what we can offer.” Fill it out, have fun noticing, then put it into practice. Remember everyone has needs and gifts to offer.
If you need help and you’re home alone: who would you call? (list three people who are close enough to come assist)
- Are their phone numbers readily available?
- Have you talked to them about being available to one another?
Who in your neighborhood could probably use some help?
- Do you know how to reach them and offer?
- Are you willing to establish a friendly relationship and check in with each other?
An elderly neighbor couldn’t think of anyone if needs arose. Then the man next door dropped by and gave her a card with his phone number on it in big letters and said he and his wife wanted to be the kind of neighbors who would call on each other.
Is there a household chore you’ve stopped doing because you need help with it?
- Is there something you could do in exchange for getting that help?
Do you notice a family member, friend, or neighbor no longer doing basic chores that are still easy for you?
- Could you add a few moments and do theirs?
Two neighbors are aging alongside each other’s properties: every Thursday one takes out the garbage for both of them, and the other makes a coffee cake to share.
Ask for what you need: offer what you can. It’s going to be a good year.