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A Realization about the “Call for Help”

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]

Recently, I had a very useful insight into the idea of the call for love or call for help. This is an idea I’ve been trying to understand more fully ever since I got the Course. I remember that when I first received the Course, a friend of mine had posted a quote in his apartment that said something like “Every communication is either an extension of love or a call for love-A Course in Miracles” That quote sounded such an immediate note of truth. It gave me one of my first feelings that here in this book was real wisdom, wisdom that was simple and direct, yet transformative.

At that time, I thought I knew what that quote meant. It meant that everyone is either giving love to me or wanting love from me. That made such sense and sounded so very true. It also had the benefit of making people seem very innocent.

Yet as I actually got into the Course and began studying it in earnest, I slowly realized that this idea didn’t mean what I thought. I discovered that there was a whole tapestry of passages around the “call for love,” many of which didn’t fit the notion of “you are wanting love from me.” I also discovered that my friend’s quote was a paraphrase. Perhaps the closest actual passage in the Course is this: “Every loving thought is true. Everything else is an appeal for healing and help” (T-12.I.3:3-4). I found that the Course actually most often calls it a “call for help” rather than a “call for love.” I could understand that when someone attacked me, they really wanted love from me. But wanted help? What did that mean? I also found places where the Course said that our motives were often darker than “I just want you to love me.” These passages said that whenever we attack, our purpose is to hurt, to be cruel, to murder. This raises the possibility that maybe someone attacking me doesn’t want my love. Maybe he simply wants to damage me and put me beneath his boot. In other words, my original understanding of “call for love” slowly began to unravel in the face of the Course’s actual statements.

I gradually began to realize that the whole concept rests on an understanding of guilt. When people attack us, they do so for a perceived benefit. They perceive that harming someone else will bring them some sort of reward. Yet if they really could benefit from injuring us, then they really would be evil. The essence of evil, I believe, has to do with deriving happiness from inflicting harm on others. However, what the Course is claiming is that since people’s nature is innocent and even holy, they are actually psychologically incapable of benefiting from attacking someone else. Instead, the only actual result of their attack is guilt. Their attack thus has the effect of harming them in their own eyes. It seems to turn them into a kind of a monster before their very eyes, unworthy and scary.

I also think that the “call for help” idea rests on the fact that we as the “victim” are in truth invulnerable. We cannot really be harmed.

So here is the recent realization I had. If I am attacked, it seems that I have been hurt in some way and the attacker has benefited in some way. It seems that I have lost, even if all I lost was self-esteem. It seems that the attacker has gained something, even if it is only a feeling of power and superiority. That entire scenario, however, is an illusion. In actual fact, the attack can’t hurt me. I am invulnerable. I am God’s changeless Son. And the attacker didn’t benefit. The only prize this person won was the “gift” of guilt. All he got was a bruised conscience.

In other words, despite appearances, the attacker hasn’t hurt me, only himself. He tried to benefit himself, but it backfired. Instead of a pot of gold, he came away with a handful of thorns. Instead of self-esteem, all he got was guilt. And that is why his attack is a call for help. He needs help. While trying to benefit himself, he keeps hurting himself. If you saw someone who was trying to spoon food into his mouth, but instead kept poking himself in the eye, you would want to help him, wouldn’t you?

That is what is happening when someone attacks you. She is trying to boost or protect herself in some way. Yet what she is really doing is shaming herself and making herself feel deserving of retaliation. She is the one in need here. She can’t hurt you; you are invulnerable. So she is the one who needs help, not you. It is not so much that she is calling for help; her action calls for help. Someone lying on the road unconscious and bleeding may not be calling out for help; their condition itself is what calls for help. So it is with your attacker.

And how do we help her? With love. Her pain is the pain of guilt. Her pain says, “I am an attacker. That’s what I am. And I hate myself for it.” So in some appropriate way, in a way that she can hear, a way that isn’t holier-than-thou, we need to say, “No, that’s not who you are. Underneath your behavior I see a shining innocence and an undying worth. I see someone worthy only of love.” And we are genuinely in a position to give her this message, because we haven’t really been hurt. Help should naturally go to the person who is hurt; we all know that. And when we have been attacked, it is actually the attacker who has been hurt, not us. She is the injured party.

I really feel at last that I have grasped the real soul of the “call for help” idea in the Course. And I have been trying to internalize it, making it a focus of my practice. It is such a radical idea. In mild cases, it can be pretty easy. But when the attack seems more substantial, when it hits closer to home, the idea seems to fly out the window like a swift and silent bird. And once that bird has flown, it can be difficult to recover. What the idea requires is two kinds of trust. First, I have to trust that I haven’t really been hurt, and in fact, can’t be hurt. And second, I have to trust that the other person is the one who has been hurt, that the other person has actually reaped guilt rather than an expanded sense of self. In most cases, I have to trust that this guilt is there in spite of being invisible on the surface.

But if someone could really, fully internalize this idea, could realize that in any attack he is perfectly unhurt, that it’s the attacker who is injured and needs help, imagine what that person would be like! Imagine what our lives would be like if we could internalize this idea!