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Asking For Help Is Hard

Americans don’t ask for help.

We work harder than most people in the world. We put in longer hours and sacrifice ourselves to a work ethic we inherited or internalized.

We are unfailingly generous and kind, setting aside our needs for others, be they children, elderly parents, the sick, or the endangered. We send our help across the country and around the world when disaster strikes.

We may believe that asking for help exposes need and weakness. That we can’t do whatever it is alone and unaided, thereby failing the test of American individuality and self-sufficiency.

When it comes to the problems we see in our political system and our government and our society, they seem too big for one person to solve on their own. The corruptive influence of money and partisanship, excessive deficits and national debt, immigration policy, healthcare, unemployment, inflation, and so on are simply too massive for an individual citizen to solve alone and so they go unsolved.

Because fixing stuff by ourselves is the only answer we have.

Broke and in debt? Get a second job. Or cut your expenses to the bone. Your children need love and attention while the other parent is at work? Wear yourself out giving all you can. Cutting the grass, chopping down a tree, moving furniture, taking care of your pets, finding a ride when your car’s in the shop. If we do ask for help, the request comes pre-packaged with an apology: we’re sorry we have to ask. We don’t want to inconvenience anyone else because we know that they too are faced with innumerable tasks they must accomplish alone.

This feels like a modern phenomenon. Before there was a rugged individual fur trapper chasing pelts in the wilderness or a lone frontiersman exploring new territory or a titan of industry who founded his empire alone in his basement, Americans operated in communities. Your neighbors helped you build your barn and harvest your crops and brought food when you had none and took you in if your house burned down. They watched your kids when you were called away and gave you a ride when your car wouldn’t start.

The best things America has ever done were done together.

Modern political partisanship works by creating communities of like-minded individuals, but they are rarely intended to build anything. They are defined by what they wish to destroy. They know at the outset who’s on their side and more importantly, who isn’t.

Which isn’t really a community. It’s a tribe.

When you needed your barn raised or your house fire put out, quite often there was someone helping you out who didn’t like you very much or someone who you had serious disagreements with. None of which mattered in the face of the thing that needed doing. Everyone set aside their own opinions and feelings to work together for a goal that they all believed would benefit the whole.

This approach was so ingrained once upon a time that we rarely had to ask for help; most of the time the cavalry arrived without being called.

Not anymore.

Solving the problems our country faces isn’t the work of a thousand or ten thousand or a million or ten million. It will take hundreds of millions of Americans, working for a short list of common goals in overwhelming, unassailable numbers, to show the power brokers running the country that they don’t, in fact, run the country. Or they shouldn’t.

And while you’re swinging a hammer at the forge, the person next to you will probably be someone you have little in common with. Someone whose life experience and values are strikingly different from your own. Someone you fundamentally disagree with on any number of issues. Someone you may not particularly like.

But that’s how America works.

We need your help, so we’re asking.

Stacey Roberts is the author of “No One Left But All Of Us” and the founder and executive director of the Valley Forge Project. He can be reached at

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