This is one of my favorite paintings by renowned artist, Gilbert Young. Its simplicity of one hand reaching out to help another speaks volumes of the capacity of the human spirit. Though I love the idealism behind the sentiment of reaching down or reaching back to help another, I question the realism of such an act. It’s a wonderful idea, but is it realistic? I can’t speak for others, but I have sometimes wondered: When can I say that you’re too heavy? When can I let go of your hand or ask you to get down off my back? How long must I carry you because you’re my brother, sister, niece nephew, parent or child? If I am responsible, is it my duty to always be responsible for someone else? When does the other person that I’m carrying have to take responsibility for his or her own actions?
Many of us don’t want to believe that someone in need is a burden, but ugly reality is that the weight of another cannot only bend our back, it can break us. Carrying someone’s burden is a challenge. We want to help, but we have to balance help with hindering—our life and theirs. I used to have a hard time saying no to people. Sometimes I still do. I thought if I could, then I should. But my oldest sister shared with me a valuable lesson that stays with me. She said that people should accept no, as readily as they accept yes. Though it didn’t happen right away, slowly and gradually, I began to be ok with saying, “No.”
What I have learned about myself is that I am a vicarious learner, and I have observed and taken note that some people will suck the life out of you if you allow them to do so. I watched family and friend give and give until there was nothing left, and because they were always the ones giving, when they needed, they didn’t have anyone to turn to.
A few years ago I attended a workshop with Lisa Nichols, author of No Matter What and she did an exercise with us about giving. She placed a glass of water on the table. As she began pouring the water into the glass, she asked those of us in attendance that as he filled the glass, she wanted us to look at the glass symbolically as each of us, and she wanted to know at what point could she stop pour to indicate when we ready to give to others. Some said at the halfway point, some said when it was three quarters full; some said when the glass reached capacity. But Lisa kept pouring until the glass over flowed. And she said that we give to people from our overflow. Such a simple concept to grasp, but one not so easily to follow through. But when you think about it, it’s the right thing to do. When we are replenished and refreshed we are in a better place to give to others. Giving to others from our overflow may not be possible all the time, but it is something to aim for. So, when someone is depending on you, but you don’t have it to give, give yourself permission to put down your brother because he may be your brother, but that doesn’t mean he’s not heavy.