Why "They Just Want Attention" is No Excuse (Updated)

[originally posted on March 6, 2015. The message of the original post is the same here, but I’ve edited it for clarity].

There are a lot of things that make me righteously indignant in life. People who don't signal when they turn left. Racism. Churches that favor talent over righteous living (I’ve written a few stories about this).

However, very few things get me quite as instantly worked up as the phrase, "oh, they're probably just doing it for the attention." 

That’s the lamest reason in the world to skip out on helping a fellow human being.

Most of the time, this phrase is used to explain why someone doesn't really need help, or that they are not in any actual danger. It is often used in reference to people who engage in self-harm, drugs, promiscuity, whatever. Boiled down:

This logic makes no sense. Here. Let me prove it with a proof. 

1. [activity] is dangerous or addictive (given)

2. [name] is engaging in [activity].

3. [name] is an attention-seeker.

4. Therefore, [name] is safe from the danger of [activity]. 

What? When you look at it closely, it doesn't make sense. Now, I am not claiming that everyone who engages in something dangerous is actually doing it for attention consciously - it very well may be a coping mechanism and meant to be either hidden or ignored, neither of which are healthy - or the cry for attention might be a survival instinct and not intentional. Either way, there is nothing inherently wrong with crying for attention. Let me repeat that: 

There is nothing inherently wrong with crying for attention. Here are three reasons why. 

 1. No one sets out to become an alcoholic.

People don't sit down with their first drink planning on ruining their future marriage or their health. They drink for fun, curiosity, etc. Most people who drink do it well and responsibly. That being said, anyone that engages in an addictive behavior is at some level of risk or another of becoming an addict. In that sense, a person's reasons don't matter. If someone is doing something to a degree that isn’t safe, it doesn’t matter why they started. It matters where they are. Someone’s reasons for becoming an addict will matter in recovery; it shouldn’t matter to the people who are trying to keep them safe.

2. Drowning people are attention seekers. 

Imagine the scene: Someone is in the ocean, screaming and thrashing and making a fit. Instantly, a lifeguard facepalms. "Stupid teenagers," he says, as he applies sunscreen to his nose and repositions his sunglasses. "They just want to see your reaction." 

That is never, ever what happens. A lifeguard rushes into the water and does everything they can to save the drowning person, even if it turns out that they were faking it. This should be obvious, but somehow it isn't the obvious reaction when someone is having an internal emergency. If a person is doing something to cope with their pain, they might, in fact, be doing it for attention, just like a drowning person splashes and screams for help. With mental and emotional problems, people are often robbed of the words they need to ask for help, so they resort to an extreme to make themselves visible. Now, not everyone is a lifeguard, and not everyone is a strong enough swimmer themselves to act as one. If you don’t have the resources to help, then don’t dive into the water. That’s okay. What’s not okay is looking away instead of making sure the drowning person gets the help they need.

3. "It is not good for a man to be alone." 

Imagine: God Himself makes a perfect, sinless world, and it wasn't good for the only human to be the only human, he needed companionship. Seriously, in a perfect world, people needed other people. Spoiler alert: we don’t live in a perfect world. Beautiful? Yes. Broken? Also yes. If someone is or feels alone in a world like this, how can you expect anything but cries for attention and companionship? If the normative calls are failing, such as broken friendships or a cold household, a person might get desperate. If someone in my proximity is lonely, broken, sick, whatever, it is a part of my job as a person to bring them into the circle. There are no exceptions to this obligation. Period.

Side note:

If you think someone is over-reacting to a political policy — looking for attention, maybe just being reactionary — maybe consider whether you’ve personally taken the time to make them feel safe. If you haven’t, then you don’t get to decide if their concerns are valid. Life isn’t about deciding if other people are hurting enough to matter. Life is about making things better, no matter how good they are to begin with.

In summary…
Yes, be wise about how you go about helping someone. 

Yes, call in back-up when needed. 

If someone’s asking for attention, chances are: they need it. Help them get what they need. You never know when your turn will come.

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash