Learning from Japan #2 - - When is it Time to Ask for Help?

  I just finished watching a very moving YouTube video [SOS from Minamisoma mayor] of the mayor of Minamisoma-- a small town near theFukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors, devastated by the March earthquake, tsunami, and threat of nuclear meltdown-- desperately but with dignity asking for help on March 24th for his town’s citizens who still remained.  These people (only a third of the original population, those who weren’t killed, missing, or evacuated) were trying to support each other under the dedicated leadership of their mayor, Mr. Sakurai.  However, they couldn’t get help from outside the town, as delivery trucks with food and gas refused to come within 18 miles of the city because of potential radiation hazard.  People were starving and without heat or even gas to leave the town.

Feeling unheard and unsupported by the Japanese government, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, and the local media, Mr. Sakurai agreed to talk in a video for YouTube made by a resident who also translated the mayor’s speech into English.  With no previous experience of the power of the internet, in a recent interview Mr. Sakurai said he “credited the large-scale response to his video with helping those who remained in the stricken city to carry on.  ‘Suddenly, the world was extending its hand to us . . . We’ve learned that we are not alone.’”  Food and other relief supplies are now being delivered to the town by non-profit agencies, and people are beginning to live their lives again.

Hearing that the town of Minamisoma is receiving the support it needs made me ask myself, ”When is it time to ask for help?”  How do you know when you cannot do what you need to do by yourself?  Have you ever ignored that inner voice in favor of “toughing it out” or asserting your independence at the expense of your sanity and even your health?  How stuck or desperate do you have to feel before you reach out for the help you want or need?

In my professions as life coach and somatic therapist, I’ve worked with many people who’ve struggled with our national ethos that taking care of all your problems yourself is the only acceptable route.  What they’ve found in working together with me is that learning to ask for help in dealing with problems and making changes is a tremendous relief. They receive the particular skills they need to address their problems, affirmation for their dreams and plans, and additional support for going forward into new areas of their lives.  By the way, they also learn that asking for help before getting completely burnt out or stuck is completely acceptable and makes their lives much easier.

Due to the terrible triad of events, however, Mayor Sakurai was forced to give his speech on the video at “the darkest moment in the disaster.”  He and his townspeople could only hope that there were others who cared and that help was out there.  However, they realized they’d reached the point where they could no longer help themselves and needed the support of others.  So they reached out to the world-- and people all over responded.  As Mayor Sakurai and his town discovered, “We’ve learned that we are not alone.” 

In fact, asking for help is really a mutually enriching experience.  When you ask for help, you allow others who help you live fulfilled by giving them the opportunity to share something they have of value with you.  At the end of his speech, Mayor Sakurai concludes, “Helping each other is what makes us human beings.”