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One of the latest books I’m reading, Not Buying It! by Judith Levine, gave me pause for thought the other day. It’s one in a long line of publications that feed my inner stinge frugal, and I’ve enjoyed reading it a lot. It’s a diary-style piece, that gives the impression that her actual diary was used to riff off as she develops ideas and themes that confronted her throughout her year of Not Buying It.

The particular passage I want to touch on today occurred on February 26 (or page 43 of the edition I’m reading). On this particular day, Levine heads up into the mountains to go skiing, but realises when she reaches her destination that she has forgotten ski wax. She wrestles with her innate unwillingness to beg wax from the ski shop at the sports centre, familiar as she is with the staff there.

“May I have…’ ‘You see, Paul drove away with…’ ‘I’m doing this project and…’ I devise various strategies, compose and rehearse appropriate lines. I don’t want to sound too demanding, but I don’t want to be too nonchalant, either. A note of apology might be appropriate, but abjectness is over the top. Basically, I want to ask for help in such a way as to prevent anyone from noticing I’m asking.

Levine’s bald honesty in relating this stream of consciousness process hit me right in the feels. She goes on to conclude that walking-around money, disposable income, the ability to spend to get ourselves out of a spot of bother, is nothing more or less than independence. What follows from that is that while asking for help is not exactly socially unacceptable, the asker is prevailed upon by social mores to feel that others, the askee/s and or witnesses to the asking, will judge the asker for their inability to provide for themselves.

Let’s leave Judith there for the moment, though, and put ourselves in a similar situation…on the side of the askee. If I think of my own workplace, if someone came into the store asking for a few cable ties to secure their load I’d hand them over without a thought. In fact, I did so the other day. It gave me a warm sense of satisfaction to go above and beyond to help this person, not as a customer service representative, but as a fellow person. He needed someone to help him out of a difficult situation and I’m glad he felt able to stop me and ask me for what he needed. I’m even more glad I had the power to help.

Turn back around now, and consider asking the people around you for help. Does the thought make you uncomfortable? If so, think about how you’d feel if they came to you, asking for help. Doesn’t it feel good to help someone in some small way? And if you need help, why not use that as an opportunity to give someone else that good feeling?

Helping each other builds relationships, and there’s nothing that tumbles quicker in the face of financial independence than relationships. The economies of need and of giving are inextricably entwined, and while we think we can remove ourselves from them, perhaps independence is a less secure place to be. So next time you’ve got an opportunity to give or to receive help, spend a bit of time thinking about how you’re changing your little corner of the world.

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