I was recently re-watching the series West Wing, one of my favorite television shows. There is an episode where Leo helps Josh get through a difficult situation. When Josh thanks Leo for the help, Leo tells him a story. That story goes something like this –
This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, “Hey you, can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then, a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, “Father I’m down in this hole can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, “Hey Joe it’s me can you help me out?” and the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” “Yeah but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”
It is a great story. It shows just the way friendship should work. Unfortunately it often doesn’t. And too often the reason is because when we are in the hole we do things to stop it from happening.
We have lots of excuses. We don’t believe anyone else has been in the hole before. They have been in a hole, but it was a different hole and they wouldn’t be able to help me. It is unfair to ask this of them – they already had to deal with their own hole. They won’t want to help me. It will show my imperfections and they won’t want to be my friend if I am not perfect. I’m the one that helps everyone else, I’m not supposed to need help. Or even, I shouldn’t have to ask, they should have just known.
Whatever the reason, when we don’t reach out and admit our vulnerability and ask for help, we don’t get the help that we need. We don’t allow our friends to help us. And that doesn’t work well for them or us. Being a friend isn’t just about getting something. It is also about being able to give something to someone we care about. That can be advice, support or help of any kind. It feels good to help a friend. And when we deny our friends the opportunity to get that feeling, it can harm our friendship.
The next time you are in a hole, yell up for help. And then let your friend jump in the hole. Chances are someone you know has been in that hole. They may know the way out. Even if they don’t they can offer support, advice and companionship as you find your way out. If you want meaningful friendships, allow your friends to contribute, too. It will not only let them feel good, you will also get some help getting out of that hole.