Being Needed

Maybe it’s just my off-kilter wiring [waits for chorus of “Yes, it probably is” to fade away], but I get a little bump of happiness when someone says, “We’re probably going to need you on {date}. Can you be here by {time}?” It means I can put my skills to use, for a good cause. It’s not a big deal, it just happens that I have some training and abilities that can help fill a gap or two on short notice. Sort of like being able to move snow for a neighbor, or filling a maintenance need at Day Job when someone was sick and we had a big shindig looming.

I’ve never quite understood characters—real or imagined—who depend on everyone else all the time. Not people with physical or mental disabilities, no, those folks often do as much for themselves as they can, and sometimes try to help others as well. I’m thinking of the Blanche DuBois attitude of “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Sometimes it is emotional manipulation, in which case you can get some seriously pathological relationships. Other people seem to believe that being helpless is a good thing, a positive virtue. It’s not as obvious today as it used to be, and the weak, fainting, delicate female character of faux-Victorian stereotype seems to have fallen out of favor in the fiction I read. But the idea that you need to sit where you are, hands folded, and wait for an Authority to come and do . . . something . . . has never quite gelled in my brain.

Having pride in a skill means being able to use that skill. It may be construction, or operating a piece of equipment, or knowing where to find information, or how to navigate an environment in less than ideal conditions, or how to fill in for someone in a pinch so that a problem doesn’t become a minor crisis (or a major one) . . . Sometimes just being calm, steady, and knowing what and who should go where is the single most important thing at the moment. Skill at matching need to service or material is vastly underrated, until you need someone who knows where the ‘dozers are wanted, and who has the size eight months diapers. Or which routes are open to what kind of vehicle, or . . .

Some days, I think a lot of our current culture’s problems are off-shoots of “don’t do anything until an Authority arrives/makes a decision/gives instructions.” We’re getting conditioned to sit and wait for . . . something or other, be it rescue, or advice, or the rent check, or whatever. Yes, there are times when “don’t just do something, stand there!” really is important, but when standing there means you die of exposure, well, better to follow someone with a clue, a plan, and some local knowledge.

Alas, there are people who love helping others, and insist on “helping the poor victim” for their own egoboo. That’s not what I’m talking about. I tend to grit my teeth when I hear peans to the “caring professions” meaning social workers, welfare workers, FEMA-type administrators, professional charity administrators (United Way, national Red Cross, national animal shelter groups . . .) Some – not all – of the people in those categories who I have met remind me of some .gov employees who spend their careers looking for ways to do nothing but get more people hired so their own GS* level rises. “I brought in twelve more clients!” should not be a bragging point if your job is to find people ways to get off of government assistance, in my opinion. (That the system for getting even short-term, emergency help is so convoluted** as to require people who do nothing but help others navigate the system is a rant for another time. Any system that complex is . . . not great.)

Stripping people of pride in a skill leads to backlash. That might be a dearth of people with the needed skill. It might be drug addiction, suicide, depression, retreat into fantasies of some kind or another. It might also be a shift in attitude so that when the Authorities decide that they are needed, they arrive and find that the problem is 90% solved and that no one one the ground will work with them unless forced.

There’s something in people that needs to be needed. Even an introvert like yours truly, who spends a lot of time in her own head, likes to get a call to service. I may grumble a little, and that’s a part of my personality that I am slowly trying to jettison, but there are skills I like to use. There are also skills I hope I never, ever have to use, plans I never want to put into place. But I have those, too.

Here’s a toast to the ones who see a need and fill it, who bring personal ‘dozers, or a spare bag of diapers, or who know how to find flashlights and organize people to keep calm in that part of the building when the power goes out.

*GS levels are civil service “ranks” in the US government. They are based on a lot of things, including education, time working for the government, type of work done, number of people working in the individual’s department or office . . . .In general, the higher the GS level, the more benefits and higher wage a person gets.

**I’d say Byzantine, but the Byzantine government and social systems had an internal logic and actually did what they were supposed to do, even if people found them frustrating as all get out.

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7 thoughts on “Being Needed

  1. Yes, it is a good feeling to be able to help out. Then steal away quietly, no chest thumping ‘look at what I did’ bs involved. And it is amazing how diverse some folks’ knowledge bases are! (Looking at you)…

  2. You said “I brought in twelve more clients!” should not be a bragging point if your job is to find people ways to get off of government assistance, in my opinion.”

    Not by itself, no. But what if the twelve new clients are people who were overwhelmed by their situation, really struggling, and could have had help long ago, but no one knew about them?

    I think that’s the point where adding new clients is a positive thing. They cannot get off government assistance if they were never on it in the first place.

    • I’ve heard it as “I am helping people who truly need guidance and a hand up,” which I have no problem with. I’ve also heard it once too often meaning “I’ve added people to my client rolls and look at what a Good Person I Am! I will get promoted!” That’s . . . where I start wondering about motives and goals.

    • The ones where they view their job as getting folks helped don’t brag about starting the job.

      They brag about finishing it.

      Most these days will even gloat about how X more people have absolutely no need for them anymore, because the problem is DONE.

  3. It’s the state of learned helplessness that gets so pervasive. Once on someone’s list, it’s hard to get off or get tossed off it. The combination of do-gooders and Empire builders creates an example of Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy.

    Helping out can be a good thing. Creating clients is usually not.

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