I recently had someone offer to give me $1,000 to catch up on bills. During a phone call, they had sussed out we were experiencing financial difficulty. I listened in silence as they went on about various aspects of godliness and responsibility, how I deserved to be helped and needed to put aside pride.
Despite my protests, and after I refused to give them my bank information for a transfer, they insisted a check would be in the mail the next morning. I cried in shame and gratitude. Even though that would fix every financial trouble, I didn’t want the money. I spent that night trying to come to terms with accepting help.
I talked myself into being okay with it considering the circumstances which had brought me here. It wasn’t as if I’d been financially irresponsible, the piety-indoctrinated part of my mind reasoned. There’d been several high medical bills, emergency vet visits, the strain of taking in two extra people for several months, and a surprise insurance and mortgage hike.
I felt like I needed to justify my accepting help, not even having asked for it. While I don’t feel the need to prequalify anyone else for my help, I tortured myself over accepting assistance that was essentially bullied upon me. That’s how insidious our society’s poverty stigma is. Even when we’ve done nothing but strive to make it without relying on help, the thought of charity can be a poison to our psyche. Why?
I’ve come to believe it’s because of how those needing help are viewed.
In a local online board, I’ve watched every request for help (even employment tips!) be met with nastiness and public shaming in this tiny town. This is a far cry from the enthusiastic charity climate of my hometown, Columbus Ohio. Out here, those needing help must be pious enough, deserving enough. It’s not enough to be human and hurting.
This is Reason #835 I haven’t reached out to my new town for temporary help to get us by.
In today’s episode of “you’re not pious enough to help,” I watched a woman in need have her conversations screenshotted and publicly posted. She had initially posted attempting to sell items to help her family, but ended the day with her hopes raised sky-high and then crushed. Another woman had PM’d her offering grocery gift cards and repeatedly insisting she tell her anything at all that was wanted or needed.
When the woman finally humbly asked for a bottle of alcohol, the ‘helper’ went from zero to sixty and refused any help, becoming abusive and cruel. Not only did she torture that woman, when she posted the conversation to the group they supported her cruelty. This is the good ol’ God’s County I’m supposed to be thrilled to be a part of.
We’ll help ya, but you’d better be the pinnacle of righteous humanity.
I don’t have the means to help that woman, but I wanted to buy her a bottle of alcohol just to spite the vicious climate here. But that brings me back to my story, and the ultimate results are similar.
The night of my phone call was the first in months I slept without anxiety, the next morning was the first I woke without panic. I had allowed myself some relief with my coffee, reworking my financial planning from crisis control to getting back on track. I felt supported and blessed that someone had chosen to share their wealth to lift my family out of an extraordinary situation.
The conversation replayed in my head, particularly where they had hammered home that I deserved help because xyz. I just needed to ‘get over myself’ and accept it, they’d said. Fine, I thought, I will humble myself and realize I don’t have to figure this out on my own. I will accept that sometimes we all need help, even the chronic helpers.
And then the call came saying they’d changed their mind.
What does one do in a situation like that? What’s the proper social protocol for discovering the hope you’d had pushed on you was false? How does one reconcile the internal shame of letting down guard and allowing someone to see weakness, only to have that weakness shoved down your throat?
I don’t have the answer to that. What I did was put my happy voice back on and agree with everything they said, how they needed to look out for themselves, how great they were for even offering to help. What I didn’t do was ask how dare they bully me into admitting weakness, listen to their preaching and then want me to still tell them they’re wonderful.
I’ve thought about that situation for the past few months, every time I call a creditor to explain my temporary situation to them again. I’m reminded of it every time I try to squeeze out enough payment to avoid another late fee, to avoid going over the limit again because of fees. I was particularly fixated when I looked at the empty space under the Christmas tree. Why?
Because I’d been given hope, had begun to envision catching up and making do instead of making up. The situation is no different than it was before the phone call, but the outlook certainly is. Before that call, I had accepted the situation and the slow grind it would take to dig us out. That was my lot, the result of my choices and circumstance, and I had planned to deal with it.
And then a monkey wrench of false hope got thrown in the mix. Very much like that poor woman from the local board.
So why do some people build up their own image of savior only to take that hope away? Does pretending to want to reach out and save someone shore up their own self-worth, or is it another aspect of mania? Do they love the feeling they get imagining doing these things, only to regret and look for a reason to rescind the offer?
I don’t have that answer, either. All I know is people who need help shouldn’t be required to pass a piety test, they simply need to exist. That’s how it works in my household, anyway.
Regardless of the awful feelings I’m dealing with over my false hope, I’m going to continue to work on accepting help when it’s offered. I’m going to continue to reach out to others in need even more enthusiastically.
Because I don’t care that my financial state is partially due to charity, anyone having a harder time than me deserves my hand helping them up. If the world worked a little more like that, we’d all be in a better state. I’m only struggling because everything happened exactly when it shouldn’t have. I’ll not blame charitable acts for chance’s responsibility.
So please, if you have someone in your life that could use some help, don’t grill them on why. Don’t wax eloquent to them or others about how wonderful you are for helping them, either.
Just help if you can, in ways you feel comfortable. Even a compassionate text or visit can mean the world to people struggling. If you want to help someone who feels uncomfortable accepting, respect their feelings and find a way to lift them they’re comfortable with.
Most importantly, don’t worsen their situation by tricking them into thinking everything will be fine. If you can’t help or don’t want to, own it immediately and say so. Everyone makes mistakes, but stringing along a struggling person isn’t just a mistake… it’s cruelty.
The antithesis of charity.