I had an elocution coach once. In one of her lessons, she had us complete the following exercise.
She came to the board and wrote down “Someone stole my yellow pencil”
And then she would have us read that line, loudly, each time with an emphasis on a different word.
SOMEONE stole my yellow pencil — meaning an accusation and anger about not knowing who it was.
someone STOLE my yellow pencil — meaning that perhaps it would have been alright if someone borrowed it, but the stealing was the the real source of annoyance.
someone stole my YELLOW pencil - meaning that it may have been fine if any other pencil had been stolen but it was the cherished yellow pencil that irked.
Without getting into the details, I recently found myself mired in all kinds of philosophical, social and identity conflicts around what to do when someone unilaterally decides you need their help.
And I thought about my elocution coach — and all the ways in which she may have helped me practice emphatically making a point and declining that help.
This may have been what we would’ve diagrammed out and practiced.
i do not want your HELP — meaning, do not assume that I need anyone’s assistance for reasons of gender, title or that I am quiet.
i do not want YOUR help — meaning that there are lots of people in this world whose help I actively seek and cherish. It is as yet unclear to me whether you have demonstrated your ability to help me successfully. Helping me (or anyone for that a matter) is a privilege that you need to earn.
“I” do not want YOUR help — meaning, it’s nice that you want to help. Perhaps you could meet that goal by helping someone else?
i do not WANT your help — meaning, as much as you want to help me, I must WANT to be helped too. And perhaps your reasons for wanting to help me are not motivating enough.
i DO NOT want your help — meaning, yes, I actually can decline your favor. It is one of those unsaid, basic human rights. And i can accept whatever consequence there might be for declining that favor.
And so I played out all of these sentences in my head — again and again. Word for word. Emphasis upon emphasis. None of these options seemed respectful, polite, dignified or kind. And while I have strong opinions on many, many things, I do strive to be kind, dignified and by-and-large a good human being. I try!
As my conflict wore on, there was much dancing around the giving and (my) vehement non-receipt of said help.
I felt increasingly weakened, undignified.
I never found the right words to say. What I ended up saying was this.
“Thank you for your feedback. I usually take a different approach to these problems and I’m going to stick with my approach for now. Perhaps your point of view may evolve. Meanwhile, I will try and be more open to your help in the future”
What I really felt I was saying
“Today. I am going to be a closed, unopen person that you seem to think I am. It is a risk I am taking for I do not know what consequences lies ahead. But today, I am going to take that risk.
And thank you for your feedback. I definitely believe in my own ability to repent these actions. Even if intellectually, I know that I’ve done nothing wrong, judging by how emotionally exhausted I feel, I wonder if I can do this again. And so, in the future, i may very well find myself looking out for opportunities where you can help me so that you can look good, where you can talk over any sentence I dare to speak, where you can say “we” each time I say and do the right thing but say “I” when you do the right thing.
But today, I am not going to have any of it.
In the future, you may very well open my eyes. Already, I have started to see a few things. That you are on a higher perch than I for instance. Maybe you intend to maintain it that way? In the future, I might agree with you that the (im)balance of these perches are eternally important.
But today, I am going to take the risk of standing my ground.
And while you can hope for a different future, so will I hope for a better future..
So. Will. I.
I still didn’t have the right words to say.
But someone did ultimately help me. Someone who has clearly had to deal with this again and again in their lives rescued me and said “Let her talk! What she’s saying is important”
I now have the right words to say
I WANT HER HELP!