I enjoy helping people. It feels good. Giving my time, energy, or expertise is a way to get things done, a way to build social capital, and a way to enrich my community. Helping is like a little bit of antidote to the poisons of the modern world. And it can also be a way to process some of what the world hands us.
This week I helped a friend move. We have been friends for many years and have helped each other move several times. I wanted to help with this move especially because this time my friend is moving out of town. Helping with the physical moving process was a nice way to also process my sadness that she will be farther away from me.
Helping provided a similar processing opportunity many years ago with the death of my then mother-in-law. She told us she had cancer and within a year she was gone. We lived far away, so we visited many times during her final year. While we were there, we helped. I cooked food, played her favorite music, and rubbed her feet. Each small way I could help felt like another way to say I love you.
We saw her health fading with each visit and knew we could do nothing to stop the cancer. Helping was how we could actively engage, instead of feeling like powerless victims of fate. After she died, we cleared out her house and took care of all her belongings. Participating in all the parts of her passing gave me a tangible way to process my emotions and helped me grieve.
All the members of her community also came together to help. Friends made a schedule to be with her regularly and help with household chores. They fed and housed my husband and I all the many times we visited. And they pooled their airline miles to get us a last minute flight when she died. Although her passing had a deep impact on her community, all that helping gave everyone a chance to work through it in their own way.
It also enabled each person to contribute to the community in the ways they wanted to help. This is vital for a community to thrive over the long term. When my contribution is not the help I want to give, it doesn't feel like giving a gift. Instead it feels like a burdensome requirement or unwanted obligation. That definitely doesn’t feel good, and often leads to burn-out.
I have been the treasurer for several non-profits over the last fifteen years. It is wonderful to be in service of great causes and I enjoyed helping. I am a skilled accountant and every organization wants a treasurer with lots of knowledge and experience. Unfortunately, once folks found out I had those skills that was the only thing they wanted me to do. All those years of helping in only one way were stifling. Accounting is not the only thing I can do, and not the only way I want to contribute.
I also love connecting with people and community building. So I stepped away from treasurer positions and directed my energy into other projects and organizations. I helped plan events, run contra dances, and create more opportunities for women, girls, and non-binary folks in martial arts. All that helping fills me with joy and satisfaction. It cultivates the kind of world I want to live in and it nurtures community.
Community is one of the most important things to me. I support it and I am supported by it. When my partner and I bought our house, we needed to fix a couple things. While we were at it, we thought we would do some other minor renovations. One thing led to another, and we suddenly had a massive project on our hands and only a few weeks to get it all done.
Our community came together to help us. They lent us tools and expertise. We took out a wall, tore up old carpet, removed water damaged cabinets. Some folks painted, some installed new flooring, others repaired drywall or changed out door knobs. They helped us install cabinets, put together IKEA furniture, and load up the dumpster.
We could not have done all that we did in the short time we had without every person’s help. And when moving day came, they were all there again to help us load the truck and then unload everything at the newly finished house. It was amazing. Our home was put together by our community, which feels like a special kind of magic.
Our house is a great example of the powerful community force of Mutual Aid. I have seen many other amazing examples, especially in recent months during Covid. Our house was a large, one-off sort of project, but there are people and organizations helping other people and communities with everyday things like food and shelter, and they have been doing it for years.
There are some groups that have gone even farther, creating small pockets of independent community adjacent to the rest of society. In Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Dispossessed, there is an entire society formed around mutual aid. The people in that world live on a partially inhospitable planet. They are forced to collaborate and cooperate in order to survive.
Just as in that story, we humans of earth face a similar situation in our world. The pandemic rages on into its ninth month, our economic systems are failing the vast majority of people, and our planet’s climate is working its way swiftly toward no longer sustaining human life. Coming together in community to support each other is the only way to ensure we actually have a future to look forward to. Do what you can to help.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.