Disrespecting the Help

I have a service-oriented job. I exist to help you, to make your life easier, and to make sure you’re happy. I’ve come to learn that it’s easy for some people to look down on “the help”.

After all, if you’re a fairly successful individual, you will probably find yourself “higher up” on the hierarchy of employment. You might even find yourself surrounded by all sorts of helpers, people you pay to clean your clothes, to maintain your lawn, and take care of the minutiae of your busy schedule.

You might even begin to think of yourself as “better” than those others who weren’t smart enough, weren’t aggressive enough, or weren’t good enough to get out of such a low-class job, one that you are clearly, too superior to do. You might feel that they deserve to be treated differently because they’re not one of you and you might end up treating them in ways that you wouldn’t want to be treated or in ways that you wouldn’t want others to treat your own.


So the incident, well, it wasn’t my fault per se, but the guy I was helping felt it necessary to but the blame for the mistake squarely on my shoulders. His profanity-laced tired could be heard throughout the building. Afterwards, I was told not to take it – you see, it’s really easy to treat people in my line of work as if they’re next to nothing and only marginally better than being unemployed. Letting any grown adult throw a temper tantrum like that is actually pretty degrading.


Then I remembered advice from a Christian blogger about dealing with angry men – though she was specifically writing in the context of a wife with an extremely angry husband, she wrote:

You can learn to work with male and female biology. That is where submission comes in, a really wise and helpful biblical principle. When men are angry and frustrated, they are often feeling powerless and disrespected. It’s counter intuitive but what they really need is to feel validated and genuinely powerful. Make yourself smaller, more child like, less intimidating, more feminine. Submit. You decrease your power so he will increase his. Anger may look powerful, but it usually comes from a place of frustration and powerlessness. I often tell my husband rather playfully, “Wow, you’re kind of scary when you’re angry,” or “Yikes, I wouldn’t tangle with you.” Anything I can think of that will bring him back in touch with his own powerfulness. The goal there is to trigger his protective nature, which then realigns his sense of control.

She doesn’t see it, but she’s telling women to “take one for the team” – to allow themselves to be degraded. The way the Bible puts it, women, as a class of people, are “the help”. That’s how a great many churches teach about the roles of men and women. Not only that, but she connects it to a matter of biology; not marriage roles – after all, men are still male even when single, and every masculine trait still courses through their veins even when not married. She seems to believe that women are supposed let their power to be usurped by the men in their lives when the men most feel powerless, so that they can be recharged and restored to their senses by making the women in their lives powerless. Only then will a man’s protective instincts kick in to over-ride his aggressive drive and he will somehow magically stop himself from acting on his outrage. Once power and control are restored, so will his good mood. But isn’t that an illusion? The idea that a man can have power and control over that much of his life? What does it do to the women in his life to take from them again and again – their power, their ability to make decisions – to be continually treated that way? What becomes of them when she no longer has any power to give him and it’s not enough to satisfy his feeling of powerlessness?

You know her idea is essentially Biblical because Peter also gives the same advice to “the help”, slaves with harsh masters:

Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:18-21

As well as to “the help”, believing wives with unbelieving husbands:

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. – 1 Peter 3:1-2

“In the same way” (or “likewise” as some Bibles put it) as what? It’s pretty clear that just as slaves were to submit themselves to their masters, harsh or gentle, in the same way, wives were submit themselves to their husbands, harsh or gentle.

It’s an old struggle of ours to treat the help as our equals – more often than not, we fail miserably. But for those of us who are the help, we need to give ourselves permission to stand up for ourselves because those we’re helping can – and will – take advantage of the situation and they most certainly won’t stand up for us. If we don’t help ourselves, who will?

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8 thoughts on “Disrespecting the Help

  1. I’m reminded of a Bible study lesson that we had one time about Adam and Eve and the word “helper” in Genesis 2:18. I wish that I recalled it better now, but it had something to do with the meaning of the Hebrew word translated “helper” and how it did not mean what we think it means, at least not when looking at the original word…it was more as a “co-warrior.” (I believe in reference to what was to come about with the story concerning the snake and the apple and all of that. It had more to do with being an equally strong partner, rather than a submissive slave type of relationship.) Anyway, in regards to the blogger with the angry husband…I think that what she was doing was enabling his problem with anger management. (Just my opinion though!) Thanks for another post that makes me think!

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    1. The word you’re thinking of is “ezer”. I remember it because “Ebenezer” means “stone of help”. God used it to refer to himself in the context of Israel’s strong, military aid; but few people tend to think of their moms, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, or wives that way. This Christian blogger certainly didn’t see herself that way either. It wouldn’t be soft, feminine, or lady-like to be to a co-warrior in Christ. In her book, the closest women come is being the the supply chain that takes vittles to the men who fight the battle.
      Far more worrying is the acceptance that her advice had, that if women would only just surrender, any issues with their husbands would resolve themselves.

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  2. I think the most difficult aspect of standing up for ourselves as ‘the Help’, is knowing how to do so effectively without adding fuel to the anger fire.

    I have had A LOT of experience with angry men… I worked as a server for many years, in classy supper clubs as well as bar and grills. And my own father was a petulant child in that regard…I can vividly recall the very last time he engaged me in one of his rages…. I was 21. I remember the immediate temptation to respond in kind, but I did not. I quietly stood my ground, and stared intently into his eyes until he finished screaming. And then I said plainly “are you done?”

    Here’s the thing, once someone loses their composure and starts on a tirade, they have already forfeited the moral high ground. On some level, most angry men (or women) know they are acting inappropriately… and if they don’t, the best way to teach them that their behavior is unacceptable is to not allow their behavior to dictate your own.

    Contempt breeds contempt. When others treat us with contempt, we feel compelled to lash back. But if we respond in kind, are we truly standing up for ourselves? Or are we just giving anger monsters power over us by allowing their behavior to ruffle us? Not saying I agree with the blogger that advises women to submit to angry husbands here… I’m just speaking from my own experience that standing up for ourselves and our right to be respected as ourselves does not necessitate feeding into conflict. Maybe that’s what Peter was speaking to… I can’t know for certain. What I do know is that the moment I allow someone else’s disrespectful treatment of me to spark a defensive position in relation to my own insecurity and vulnerabilities– I’ve allowed that person to disrespect me. And they have won the power over me they seek.

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    1. There are two common responses: “fight” or “flight”; a third response is “freeze” which pretty much describes how I handled the situation; it’s usually what happens when neither fight nor flight is a valid option. I think part of that is that for my whole life, I’ve always been in an environment where I was never encouraged to fight – it was always breaking a rule or a law. It was never proper, it would mean that I wasn’t the bigger/better person. So I don’t really know how to throw down a proper insult, how to stand up for myself, or to call somebody’s bluff who wants to take advantage of a perceived weakness.

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      1. What I’m saying is that every response that triggers our sympathetic nervous system is a response largely out of our own control. There is a way to harness our own biology so that our responses can be chosen and transcend the ways our childhood experience and environment has shaped our autonomic responses. Ideally, we retrain our brains to balk at the typical angry man as the weak creatures they are, instead of responding to every angry adult as a threat to our safety. This can be extraordinarily difficult for those who have experienced childhood trauma. I know this from my own experience, and also from my work as a Behavioral Management Specialist in a community-based rehabilitation program. But it is certainly possible with the right supports in place!

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