My son and I stepped carefully along the path of debris from the front yard of destruction to the backyard of despair. On the back is the burn pile. Though a grown adult, my son turned his head curiously side to side, looking agape, much like his three-year old son did, at the ruin which had accumulated from the recent flood. Standing at what would be the perimeter of what would be the burn pile at what would be the end of the day, he asked me, “Are you still angry about what happened with the flood?”. No one had yet asked me that. But I had an answer, though borrowed from someone far more eloquent than me. I said, “Anger is a luxury I can’t afford in times like these”.
I can’t afford to be angry. To get angry. To stay angry. I can’t allow self pity. Not in times like these. Three weeks ago, I lost most of my possessions, in a flooded house, and saw my poultry business go south, wet light feathers on lead flood waters. So, for those of you who think I am angry because you did not show up to help, I can’t afford it. There is too much to clean up. For those of you who think I’m not calling you because I am wallowing in self pity, I can’t allow self pity. There are animals to care for, a dwelling to rebuild, a farm to restore. Don’t get me wrong. Fortitude, like anger, has its stages. One day I’ll hate you, but not today. One day I’ll cry me a river, but it will have to wait. Today, I’ll have to be strong, which I never was.
The first response of others to another’s crisis is emotional. Sorrys pour like overflow at a spillway in the hundred year flood. Next, comes logic. Expressing sorrow can be an easy sell, an inexpensive as a single cell phone call. There, you’re done. Check it off, Anton. Back to your yoga, Yogi. After the emotional response, logic kicks in. It should be obvious that something could be done for a friend in need following a devastating flood. The single word flood, even for the thick, should not require a treatise on urgency, devastation, and despair. But that’s your attitude as a flood survivor…when you are reflecting unto yourself, the victim.
Doing something for someone must take time, will take effort and might even cost money. This is the over balancing rational of the person who would be help? Logical questions arrive to rescue them. Can I afford it in these times? Can I back out of commitments made while way back in those illogical emotional times? Can I present convincingly, to the needy and, more importantly to myself, the arguments that justify never showing up and never even calling, for the time being? Yes! It just takes attitude. And then there’s bonus time. After the victim’s industrial dumpster is overflowing, his wet salvaged coin and currency collection is basking in the sun, and four stray pit-bulls stock his livestock on his semi-abandoned farm, you can pile on with euphemisms. What’s the matter there, you’ve been keeping a low profile. Hey, you must be busy there, ’cause there’s been a failure to communicate. I guess you’re angry there, you’ll get over it, you always do.
There must be fifty ways to leave your friends in a lurch, many strategies to backing out or never backing in to helping those who suddenly need dumpster service. Let’s look at three. Strategy One: You don’t really want to help. If you don’t really want to help you will use any excuse, it won’t be complicated. I have to mow the grass. You know fast it grows in these times? I must clean the pool. Don’t you pity me, it takes so much time? I have Yoga class today (just in time). Did you know I have perfect attendance (wish me luck!)? With Strategy One, made-up excuses run out quick. The reluctant would-be-helper will quickly look to the victim to supply the excuses.
- I didn’t like your attitude – when I told you I had to mow.
- I expected you to call me daily – after I cleaned the pool.
- I assumed you would call me back immediately – after I texted that I wasn’t coming.
- I know you’re angry – so I won’t show up.
Strategy Two of Help avoidance is justification. Remember, these are strategies of logic which soon follow reactions of emotion. Justification!
- Why should I help you when my problems are bigger than yours?
- You have (pick one) insurance, income, in-laws, and I don’t.
- I can’t spend money I don’t have on things I can’t afford for someone who has never been there for me.
With the airtight alibi, which justification yields, you miss the subtlety that reality could bring to self serving faulty perception. The victim can bypass debate with the justifier’s logic and move him direct past “NO GO” to the stunning conclusion that: When a disaster victim needs help, they don’t care what your excuse or justification is. “I needed help and you didn’t show up”. It is without measure.
Strategy Three of Help avoidance is being busy. I’m busy. I actually prefer this one. It leaves the disaster-victim-needing-help nowhere to go. With Strategy One, you have excuse by number. With Strategy Two, you have excuse by values. But with Strategy Three you have no excuses. Can’t be challenged or debated or rationalized or justified. I’m not coming. End of story. Kinda. Well sorta. Busy is the antidote to most problems in life. If you lost everything in a flood, get busy. If you lost your income and are waiting for financial collapse, get busy. If you have a small business and too much work to rescue other people, save yourself, stay busy. You might lose a friend because you’re too busy to help them or call them or think about them. But if you are busy, you have plenty to keep you that way, and another friend will wander in off the street as soon as that ex-friend departs on the next flood waters and leaves an opening. A.M.F.
What is it you can’t create in another person? I’m going to elect the emotion empathy. What is it you can’t explain in yourself? I’m going to give the word gratitude. My precious emotion is gratitude. The number of that beautiful beast is 27. Twenty-seven helpers showed up yesterday to clean-up my washout. I did nothing to create the empathy they felt…it was already there. They did everything to explain the gratitude I feel for their effort…it was created by them. Just when you least expect it, just what you least expect. My Damascus Moment always rolls in on a wave of disaster and leaves me on a higher dryer place, with a bit wiser perspective. Thanks be to those with innate empathy. Praise be to the emotional option of empathy, resulting in my emotional gratitude, symbolized by the number 27, and emblematic of a higher place which reason, justification, and self-importance never reach. I have to go. I’m very busy you know.
When you are first fleeing disaster, you don’t stand on ceremony. When you are next faced with survival, excuses don’t sit well. By the time you reach out for recovery, you know where your friends lie.