Helping With Boots…

Thurgood Marshall is often quoted, “None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by the our bootstraps. We got here because somebody–a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns–bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

Snow angelI think of that quote every time I’m at school with kindergarteners and it’s recess time. Not only do they often need help with their boots, they sometimes need help with zippers and mittens and other winter paraphernalia. I continue to work on my zipper repair skills and have gotten better at pulling on mittens. And while I am certainly charged with encouraging and increasing independence in these little humans, it’s kinda fun to zip up a coat beneath a raised chin and hear, “Thanks, Mr. Boomsma!”

As long as I’m not going outside with them, I usually have a few minutes to stand and watch them clomp down the hall and head outside while I ponder that awesome responsibility we all share. We have to make some pretty tough choices about when and where we draw the line between helping people and enabling and encouraging them to remain independent. It just might be that the asking the question is as important as finding the answer. This isn’t a simple issue whether we’re talking about a five-year old who needs a shoe tied or an adult who’s dealing with a difficult situation.

The holidays bring with them so many things. We of course think of turkeys and shopping a family events… but another topic arises. In some ways it seems incongruous–this is a meaningful, warm and charitable time of year. One would think festive moods would be the order of the day. And yet, for many different reasons many people get a version of the “holiday blues.”

My biases are strong, and one is that we tend to study problems to death, perhaps as a way of avoiding the need to admit we don’t know the answers but at least we’re doing something. At the same time, I believe prescription without diagnosis is malpractice whether it’s medicine or management. So I do not want to be clinical and talk about depression versus the blues versus SAD (seasonal affective disorder). But I do want to share two stories with you.

Many years ago I worked for a large company in an office environment. My sales job required frequent interaction with the customer service department. I still remember one young lady who was a bit moody on occasion. Thankfully, she didn’t self-diagnose from the available list… depressed, SAD, PMS… instead she would warn me to be advised “I’m not having a very good day.” Ah! Bad days! Those I know how to deal with because I’ve had a few myself! I would usually wish her a nice bad day and encourage her to enjoy it as much as possible. Ironically, I would often leave her laughing. If time permitted, I would sometimes give her a call later in the day to see if I could further contribute to her misery. She would tell me I was nuts. In time it became a bit of a game and we’d discuss when I might have a turn. One might say we learned to share bad days.)

Now please understand, I’m not recommending this approach universally. My second story might help explain where we’re headed. I recently listened to a TED talk by a self-admitted “depressed comic.” It was not funny, but it was extremely revealing and helpful, because I understood him to say that most people who want to be helpful to those who are “depressed” are, in fact, anything but. His message to us is that we are often misguided because we aren’t acknowledging the reality of depression. In our effort to “fix” it, we actually make it worse because now we have confirmed the person’s belief that there is something wrong with him or her.

I confess as I thought of my friend from years ago I felt a little smug. It turns out allowing (or even encouraging) her to have a bad day may have actually been the right thing to do!

So, if you find yourself suffering the “holiday blues” and feeling sad I’d like to assure you that it’s okay. To some degree it happens to all of us–it’s part of our human nature. It might even be possible to appreciate it. Now if it goes on and on… or you find yourself sinking deeper and deeper, it might be time to reach out. A challenge you may have is finding the right person. If you find someone who immediately starts trying to make you happy… or suggests you take a pill or some other drastic measure, you just might be barking up the wrong tree.

A good start? Listen to what the depressed comic says because he understands there’s a difference between being sad and being depressed. But more importantly, he understands that acceptance of oneself and acceptance of others is an important component.

“The world I believe in is one where I can look someone in the eye and say, “I’m going through hell,” and they can look back at me and go, “Me too,” and that’s okay, and it’s okay because depression is okay. We’re people. We’re people, and we struggle and we suffer and we bleed and we cry, and if you think that true strength means never showing any weakness, then I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. You’re wrong, because it’s the opposite. We’re people, and we have problems. We’re not perfect, and that’s okay.”

You have got to listen to this guy whether you think you are depressed or not. Because just maybe you’ll have an opportunity this holiday season. You may be the person who’s “going through hell” or you may be the person who meets someone who is. Either way, know that it’s okay to need to help with your boots. It doesn’t mean you’re a baby. I won’t try to say I can remember when I needed help with my boots, but I know there was a time when I did. So I get it when the kids hand me theirs. And I know there are things I face now that at times I need help with because “we’re people, and we have problems. We’re not perfect, and that’s okay.”

Listen to the TED Talk at


1 Comment

Filed under Causes and Friends, Personal Growth

One response to “Helping With Boots…

  1. Pingback: December 2013 Health Beat | Valley Grange #144

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