Farnborough Air Day, 1992: a landmark in European aviation and a pivotal moment in my own journey. I was six months into my new life as a quadriplegic, still in the hospital and absorbing the seismic shifts in my day-to-day experiences. It was a sweltering summer day, my first outside the hospital, surrounded by a bustling crowd.
The air show was filled with things I’d never noticed before. Notably, the unspoken “club” among wheelchair users who felt the need to acknowledge each other. Was it a badge of kinship or just a social quirk? Why does this camaraderie exist? That’s a thought-piece for another day.
Then came the moment that shifted my perception of “No, thank you.” I found myself, along with my primary care nurse Helen, in front of a fighter plane. There was a queue for the cockpit, and while I had no intention of breaking it, the airmen offered me a chance to sit in the pilot’s seat. The unspoken “Hell yes!” screamed in my head, but my mouth uttered a polite “No, thank you.” Why? Because I didn’t want to be a bother.
What I failed to realise was that my polite refusal had more profound repercussions. Over the years, I’ve refused countless offers of help, thinking that my “No, thank you” would shield me from becoming a burden. What I didn’t consider was that I was robbing people of the chance to do something good, to feel a sense of contribution. As Maya Angelou wisely noted, “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”
It’s one thing to decline an offer for a legitimate reason, quite another to perpetuate a cycle of emotional resistance out of misplaced guilt or pride. I had inadvertently created an emotional barrier, not just for myself but for those who wished to extend their kindness. And in doing so, I’d become a part of a larger problem—creating a culture of hesitation around helping disabled people.
So, what’s the lesson here? Help is a two-way street. It’s not just about you; it’s also about the person offering. It’s a symbiotic relationship where both parties can experience the positive impact of a simple act of kindness. As Jessy and Bryan Matteo said, “Even the smallest act of caring for another person is like a drop of water—it will make ripples throughout the entire pond.”
So next time someone extends an offer of assistance, think twice before you refuse. Unless you’ve got a good reason to decline, consider saying “Thank you” instead of “No, thank you.” You’re not just accepting help; you’re embracing a shared moment of human connection, empowering both yourself and the other person in the process.
Updated for 2023