Country Living Series

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Don't be a burden

I don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing I hate to do, it’s impose on people. I will sometimes go to ridiculous extremes just to avoid inconveniencing anyone else, even when I know the “inconvenience factor” would be minor. That’s just the way I am. So imagine how much worse I would feel if I had to depend on others to provide me with the very basics in life.

A couple of years ago we had a severe windstorm come through. It was a chilly spring day, and the weather forecast was calling for Category One Hurricane-force winds (70+ mph). We spent much of the preceding day battening down the hatches and getting ready for it. We knew we would lose power, so we filled every jug in the house with water, made sure we had firewood (for the woodstove) stacked right outside the door, had all the oil lamps filled and trimmed, and prepared the barn for the livestock. I caught up on the laundry and made sure everyone took showers. We made plans not to leave home. In other words, we prepared in every way possible to insure that an interruption of services would be trivial.

The wind was hideous, as predicted. Tree limbs came down all over, many roads were blocked, and of course the power went out. But the lamp-lit house with cozy with warmth, and a nice stew bubbled on the propane stove.

However some neighbors arrived home to a cold dark house. They had no way to heat it, no way to light it, no way to cook an evening meal. We invited them over and we had a lovely gathering until the power came back on.

To their credit, these neighbors understood how even a short power outage left them vulnerable, and they’ve taken huge steps to make sure they won’t be an imposition on anyone during future power outages. They now have a good supply of stored water, oil lamps, and firewood. They have a wood cookstove and lots of stored food. In short, they are far better equipped than they were before.

Unfortunately not everyone has the foresight and understanding of our neighbors. Most people don’t plan to be a burden on others (at least, I hope not). But in fact, that’s exactly what happens when something happens you’re not equipped to handle.

Let me make an important distinction right now: not everyone is able-bodied or of sound mind. Reasonable accommodations must be made for those who have physical or mental challenges. Okay, now that that disclaimer is in place, the rest of you need to get off your butts and work.

Believe me, if the bleep hits the fan, it will be all hands on deck. We’re all going to have to work our fannies off to provide ourselves with food, shelter, protection, and other critical needs. Not one of us will be sitting around staring at the boob tube (which, presumably, won’t exist anyway if things get too bad).

My point is, the last thing you want to be in this scary new world is a burden.

Being a burden can take many different forms, and most of these are your fault. Let me explain what I mean.

If someone is blind, clearly we do not expect him to drive a car. A blind person is not a “burden” because his condition is not his fault. We must take reasonable measures to accommodate his limitations. But within those limitations, a blind person is just as capable of working – and working hard – as the next person.

But too many people claim they can’t or won’t work because of some lame excuse. Not to sound too harsh here, but post-bleep, there will be a whole lot more work to be done. Don’t try to come up with excuses to get out of it.

Many years ago when he was young and stupid, a friend did something wrong and was assigned some community service tasks. He had to do some cleanup on a park along with some other men who were similarly assigned community service work. My friend later reported how hard these men worked at getting out of work. They would delay. They would hem and haw. They would make excuses. They would procrastinate. They did everything, in short, except pick up the stupid rake and gather the leaves.

Meanwhile my friend quietly and diligently raked leaves. It was easy work. He raked and raked and raked. He raked half the park all by himself simply by not making excuses not to rake the leaves. At the end of the day, the supervisor gladly signed off his community service hours and wished him well.

My friend later reported how much easier it is to simply apply his energy to the task required rather than come up with endless lame excuses to get out of the work.

It’s worth mentioning that my friend’s attitude has continued through his adult life. He has a work ethic that beats other people hand’s down. He has succeeded in a difficult field because he works when others make excuses.

A work ethic is the first step toward not being a burden.

What is a burden? A burdensome person does more than just avoids work. A burdensome person talks too much, or complains too much, or is one of those know-it-all annoyances who must tell everyone what they’re doing wrong and how much better they could do it. And through it all, he lets someone else carry the load while he takes it easy.

Not everything can be anticipated and prepared for. But such things as power outages are common occurrences. The least – the very least – everyone should do is be ready to handle them without being cold, hungry, in the dark, and unable to use the toilet.

Because if you aren’t prepared, you’re a burden. Plain and simple. How much of a burden depends on your attitude.

But those of use who consider themselves prepared can’t be too smug about it, because any of us can become burdens at the drop of a hat. If you lose your home and supplies to a wildfire, you’re just as vulnerable as if you had never prepared. That’s why we must remember to extend the hand of charity and mercy to others.

But if you deliberately flaunt your unpreparedness, and laughingly taunt those who take precautions against the unknown… then don’t act surprised if your prepared neighbors are less likely to feel charitable toward you. They’d rather help the grateful old lady down the street, or the friends who extended a helping hand in the past.

Now extrapolate this attitude toward society at large, and we have a problem. I once heard it said that most Americans would starve to death in a field of wheat while standing next to a cow. What this means is most of us are so disconnected from our food sources that we are helpless to harvest nutrition in its most elemental state. We are so dependent on others to provide us with our needs that we are helpless if those supplies lines are interrupted.

That’s what I fight against: ignorance and helplessness, both personally and societally. Don’t be a burden. Pull your own weight.


  1. Reciprocity is built into our genetic code. It is an inherent part of human nature. People avoid asking for favors, because they know that they will owe a favor back in turn.

    But some people seem to have done a wonderful job of turning that part of their nature off.

  2. Great post!!!!!! Makes one think of were they, themselves, would be a burden.

  3. I love watching some of those reality shows on Discovery but I'm always surprised at how there's always a handful of people who sit around and complain and don't do their share of the work. Maybe it's just what the producers decide to film and show. Anyhow, I don't imagine those people would last long in a different world - as John Smith said, no work, no eat.

  4. Well said Patrice. I've been trying to "convert" many people to preparedness for the last 5 years and I'd say my success rate is maybe 5%... There are going to be a lot of miserable folks if things continue falling apart, but we can only do so much for our fellow man before it becomes wasted effort. Thanks for taking care of yourself and the gentle reminder for others!

  5. You're like a breath of fresh air, Patrice. Too bad that those who need to heed your words probably aren't reading your blog. :-(

    How much better this world would be if all families were as responsible as yours. My compliments, Ma'am!


  6. Good post, but I think you're preaching to the choir. Wish I were reading this in my local newspaper.

  7. We've been fairly prepared for ourselves for quite some time. We live in an urban area where people take things like electricity & television for granted.
    During the "Inauguration Day Storm" (Clinton) we had a bad storm come through. We lost power for 11 days. We had heat, light, & plenty of comfort. We did many of the things you did to prepare for the storm also. Showers, laundry, etc. just to get a bit ahead "in case".
    I had a home based business, quite a niche business actually. We sold dollhouse & miniature supplies. I never did have a fancy computerized cash register - always used receipt books, handwritten of course, and a plain cash drawer. I have plenty of light - numerous lanterns. Plenty of heat - kerosene heaters & stove. I had more customers during the power outage than I had had the previous month! People were looking for things to do! They just couldn't figure out ways to entertain themselves.
    My elderly Mother is in a Senior Apartment complex. If power goes out she will be in deep stuff if she stays there. There was recently a "Preparedness Expo" that it was highly suggested at the Senior Center that ALL seniors should attend. Not my Mother! Her comment to the speaker was "I'll just go to my daughter's house! They have heat, food, and a Scrabble game!" Well, we do have quite a bit more than Scrabble to entertain us.
    We have gone out of our way to try not to burden anyone. We are seniors also - but certainly young enough to take care of ourselves.

  8. I think we had the same windstorm hit us a few years ago. We were able to cook and eat, stay warm etc. We have a hand crank radio and hand crank battery charger..the only thing we were lacking wast light! Thanks for the reminder as I forgot to purchase the lamps. Candles are not always availiable!
    And, its amazing the folks that look at our garden and say "you know they sell this stuff in stores" The majority have no clue and it scares me

  9. We're working on using a generator for our well, and possibly getting a solar setup for it if we can.

    Great, thought-provoking post.

  10. Patrice, from your keyboard to God's Ear.

    Oh how quickly life can change.

    We also had serious electrical storms that went on for 24 hrs last week, and one house in the mountains just above us was struck and burned to the ground. Another one was hit and also burned down. Thankfully there was no loss of life, I'm told. We heard strikes nearby. It was, blessedly, raining and hailing. Otherwise life might have changed a whole bunch in a hurry for a bunch of us.

    While we're probably better prepared than the majority of folks, we're not nearly as well prepared for long term situations. We have the basic needs, like a wood stove with a cooking insert and our own well with a good river nearby, lots of lamps and candles etc. but life would have to change dramatically in a very short time if it went on more than a few weeks. Fortunately I know what that off-grid life is about and have many fond memories of family and kinfolks homes deep in the Ozarks and elsewhere in places that have never seen electrification. This was before solar panels and it was the way folks had always lived. And they lived very well. They made it, they grew it, they raised it, they hunted it, they caught it. Whatever they had they maintained and took care of it like their lives depended on it, because it did. It was a quiet, focused and a very productive, happy life. Sound at all familiar? lol

    Don't get me wrong.... I dearly love not having to heat water to bathe and wash dishes and my automatic front loading washing machine is truly a blessing. I am hugely grateful for my stove and oven. I don't own a microwave or food processor, but I can sure get busy with a blender! lol I'd miss it all a bunch!

    But I'd get it done. And we'd thrive. We have a big wood-splitter and we'd be busy. I play acoustic music and write songs on a professional level, and at no time are artists like me more valued or needed than during hard times. We live in an agricultural region.

    Better still,we live in a rural community of similarly equipped and talented people, who, in fact gathered this evening for a special meal and quiet celebration at the home of one of us to express their thanks for how much their neighbors have helped them in recent months. How cool is that? See why I'm going on and on? LOL The timing of your piece couldn't be more perfect. And oh how you'd love my neighbors who hosted us. They know how to make and DO everything.(She's a canning maven, too.) She was seriously injured in a fall late last autumn and for the first time in her life needed help. And we made sure they had it, gladly and with love, just as they would for us. Such care is never more precious and appreciated than when it's received by highly self-reliant people.

    We're so blessed, you and I. We got out. May we never have to add those two other dreadful little words to that statement....."in time."

    I shudder to think what most urban-dwelling Americans will experience if the fertilizer hits the ventilator.

    God have mercy.

    A. McSp

  11. If you have good neighbors, you are truly blessed. We do things for our neighbors and they reciprocate. We have a non-verbal agreement with the next-door neighbors--whoever goes to the curb first after the trash truck comes brings up both cans to the proper places. If we have extra produce, we share with them. When they have a family party, they bring over some of their wonderful barbeque (he is a professional cook and a very good one). We needed to cut down a tree; so one of the neighbors helped in exchange for a share of the wood. Other neighbors invited our visiting grandchildren over to use their swimming pool on a very hot day. The list goes on and on. What it all boils down to is sharing and helping. It makes for a great place to live.

  12. My wife and I live in a big city. We're planning on moving to a rural area as soon as we can. Let's just say we don't want to be here (in the city) when the food stamps get cut off.