One day I was walking in a fairly busy city street. It was warm out, so there were quite a few people about. Near one street corner, against the wall of a convenience store was an older homeless man. He was dressed as a “bum” … worn, dirty clothes that did not quite fit right. He had a paper bag in his hand. As people passed him, he would hold out is hand to them in a supplicating manner, and speak to them in a barely understandable voice. There were pretty much three reactions: avoidance, disdain, or shame. But sadly, there was one reaction I did not witness. Nobody offered to help the man in any way. The few who acknowledged his existence did it with either anger or embarrassment. I saw all this as I was walking toward him on the street.
When I reached the man, he also held out his hand to me, and mumbled something I could not quite here. A closer look at him found him almost as dirty as his clothing, and rather … aromatic. At first I thought he was asking for some money, and since I had change in my pocket I reached in and grabbed some and offered it to him. He seemed a little offended by this and spoke a bit more aggressively, so this time I could understand what he was asking me.
It turns out all he wanted was a hand up. The bus was soon due for the bus stop on the corner, and he wanted to get on it. And he was simply having difficulty getting up. All he needed was one helping hand to give him a boost, and he would be on his way. So I gave him my hand. He barely had any weight to him. We got him to his feet, the bus came within a couple of minutes, and he was gone. I never saw him again.
Why did I do this for him? For me there was no question of not doing it. In my mind it was simply the right thing to do so I did it. There was not thought involved. The only question I had about helping him out was why none of the numerous people who had passed him before me could NOT do the same.
I am not sharing this memory to toot my own horn. I am not trying to say I am somehow better than these people. I am trying to make a point. I am just another person with my own fears and strengths; with my own beliefs and perceptions. As far as I can tell the primary difference between me and the numerous other people who passed that man on that day is that to me helping others is pure habit. I don’t think about it. I just do it.
Helping others is not really all that difficult. It is as simple as offering a hand when someone needs it. All it takes is the choice to do so. And if you make that choice often enough, it will eventually become habit. For me it is no longer a choice, and may never have been. To me it is already habit. My question still remains, why did so many people choose NOT to help him? Was it because he was too dirty? Because they somehow feared him? They were disgusted by him? Or maybe they thought that he had no right to ask for help in the first place. I can not speak to the motivations of these people, nor do I want to judge them. But I do still question why they made the choice they did.
When I offered my hand, that man was not homeless. He was not American or any other nationality. He was not old or young; male or female; Muslim or Jewish. He was not dirty or clean. He was no black or white; not democrat or republican. He was simply a human being asking another human being for a hand up. Why was that so hard to give?
So what is the lesson here? What is my point? If we want to make the world a better place, we need to stop creating reasons to NOT do what is needed. Stop thinking about all the reasons NOT to do what we know in our heart is the right thing to do, and simply do right. Just make the choice to make the world a better place.
It is really that simple.