“The blind leading the blind,” my math teacher would mutter, derisive tone complementing the disgusted roll of his eyes. This usually came when some kid who hadn’t paid attention all year tried to explain a complex problem to some other kid who hadn’t paid attention all year. As middle school kids, we all dutifully laughed at how stupid that would be. But now I realise that there’s a sense of safety to that. I mean, if I’m blind, and whoever’s leading me is also blind, we’re probably gonna wander in pointless circles for a long time and maybe walk off a cliff or something, but at least we don’t judge each other for not being able to see.
I’m not blind. Extremely myopic, but technically not blind. Since I haven’t actually tried being blind, let’s talk about being lost instead of being blind. I don’t know about you, but I’m horrible with directions. I took four of my siblings out to dinner and a movie at the same restaurant and cinema over the course of about six months. I got lost every single time. (On the bright side, we got the scenic tour of the town…four times…) And if I’m somewhere I’ve never been? Forget it. I’ll just wander in circles by myself for a few weeks, thanks.
Unless there’s someone nearby who is also lost. Then I’ll append myself to them. I don’t care whether we ever wind up where we’re supposed to be as long as I’m not alone. Because someone else who’s also lost won’t criticise me for having no idea where I am or where I’m going. Never mind that we will never, ever be of any use to each other–we’ll be comforting and friendly and sympathetic.
Try this. Take this entirely un-researched quiz to see what kind of lost person you are:
- You’re at a social event and have no idea where to go. Who do you ask for help?
A. Your mum. You have her on speed-dial.
B. Anyone with an official-looking nametag; they probably work here, so they probably know.
C. That other overwhelmed-looking person across the room–the one desperately scanning all the signs and flipping through the handout materials.
D. “Social event? Excuse me; I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.”
- Anxiety has been hounding you for a while. You know you should reach out to someone. Who do you call?
A. Your mum. She’ll tell you it’s fine, tuck you into bed, make you tea, and do your taxes for you.
B. A clinical psychologist. Friends may be comforting, but you need someone with training to help you.
C. Your other anxiety-ridden friend. Solidarity, man.
D. “I am never anxious. My isolated life of books and tea keeps me in a perpetually calm state.”
- You haven’t studied for that massive final. Who do you talk to?
A. Mum! She knows everything. If you fail, she’ll call the school board and complain.
B. The kid who sits in the front row and records all the lectures word for word.
C. Your roommate–who also hasn’t studied but knows how to throw great pity parties. If you’re gonna fail, you might as well commiserate with Netflix and popcorn and enjoy the ride.
C. “Me? Final? I’m sorry; I don’t know what you’re talking about, but my cat needs me.”
- Pick a cute animal.
If you got mostly A’s: You must have a wonderful mother–almost as wonderful as mine. Or you have attachment issues; one or the other, but I won’t judge. On the plus side, your mother probably has good advice, at least.
If you got mostly B’s: Congratulations. You have a healthy sense of who to ask for help. Probably you also get up without hitting snooze and eat all your vegetables.
If you got mostly C’s: You and me both, hon. It’s all about feeling comfortable, not actually making meaningful progress. Comfort bubbles are a safe zone, and my mother always taught me not to take unnecessary risks.
If you got mostly D’s: We might be slightly soul-mates. I’ll bring tea if I can pet your cats.
Okay, so back to the point: asking for help from anyone useful is hard. It’s scary. See, if I ask my friend, “Do you think I’m sick?” They might say, “Yeah, you should probably take the day off. Sleep, drink coffee, watch Netflix, see how you feel tomorrow.” But if I ask a doctor the same question, he might say, “Oh heavens–it looks like you might have seven different fatal viruses, and I need to give you fourteen injections and draw a quart of blood to find out for certain.”
And …needles, man. Just…needles.
The truth is, a lot of the time I don’t really want a solution. I want someone to hold my hand and say, “Yep. Life’s rough. Me too.” I don’t want steps to solve the problem. That’s work. It’s uncomfortable. And I never know whether that expert might be snickering at me behind the professional clipboard and horn-rimmed glasses. Never mind the fact that I might have a legitimate problem that needs immediate attention; I’ll always go back to my other lost friend. Because it’s way less scary to wander in circles together than to approach a stranger with a nametag.
Cause…guys…actual improvement…that’s terrifying.