When twilight set in yesterday, our hen Frieda suddenly appeared at the back door. All by herself, not in the usual company of her sister hen. I immediately found this suspicious, because she was supposed to already be perching and in addition she was not used to appearing here all by herself. Our hen house is located in the back of our garden, so she had to cross quite a distance, including our kitchen garden, to reach our back door.
So she must somehow have thought “I cannot do this by myself, I need to get help”. I put on my boots and raincoat and went outside. Frieda immediately fell into pace next to me, as if she were a trained dog. Did I imagine it or did she actually shoot me a grateful look as if to say “Thank you, I knew I could count on the human”. But of course not, this was purely me projecting human feelings onto an animal.
Upon arrival at the hen house it turned out she had missed curfew and got locked out (as opposed to her sister, who was snugly inside). You have to know that our hen house is equipped with a fully automated system which closes the door once the light sensor detects it is dark enough. It had happened before, but on those occasions Frieda would just sit on the board in front of the door, trying to get some sleep there.
So I found it quite remarkable that this time she chose to come and ask for help as if she knew that on the other side of the garden, behind the lighted window, there was a being who could help her. You can only wonder about what went on in her tiny hen’s brain. As of now I will never again use the term “headless chicken”.
To me the essence of this funny anecdote is the element of “asking for help”. Apparently this is something that is hard to do for a lot of us, as if it is a sign of weakness. Self-reliance and autonomy are highly respected in our individualistic society. Asking for help means making yourself feel vulnerable. And that is difficult.
Another aspect of asking for help is that we build up a ‘debt’ as it were, especially if we cannot reciprocate the favour immediately. We also do not like to disturb others with our problems (when you contact someone, you often start by saying “I hope I’m not disturbing?”). Next to being polite, this also expresses a feeling of inferiority, which is often a product of our education and part of a family culture. But turn it around for once. When somebody asks you for help, do you think “Oh dear, there she is again, I really do not have time for this”? I don’t believe you do. On the contrary, you will usually feel good about someone asking for your help. A request for help can really be a gift for the other person: you give them the chance to feel important in your life.
People who have received help often think that they need to do something in return (to pay off that so-called debt). For instance, if your friends have helped you move, you may feel inclined to organise a thank-you dinner in return. But your helpers are usually not expecting that. What gives them a good feeling is knowing how happy you are that everything is solved and arranged and settled. That is what they are thinking about when they drive home after having helped you, nothing else.
Frieda definitely gave me a good feeling by asking for my help. I cannot bear to think that she might have run into a marten instead of me. And unwittingly she has paid off her debt hundredfold by producing tasty eggs.
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