It’s a big scary world out there. Every day we hear about some atrocity that has happened at the hands of someone, or group of someones, who are evil. Shootings, hackings, abductions, scams… Thanks to frightening news, have all become skeptical, skittish and untrusting. We teach our kids to not talk to strangers, don’t get involved, don’t ever be alone, be aware of their surroundings, — basically don’t trust anyone they don’t know. And yet – we also tell them to be caring and charitable, be kind, and help those less fortunate. If I was a young person in today’s world, I’d be confused and ask “Well, which is it? What am I supposed to do?”
There was a great example of this paradox in a recent episode of Modern Family (one of my very favorite shows). The Dad, Phil, was approached by a man who he felt he should know, but didn’t recognize. The man greeted Phil warmly, and ended up asking Phil for taxi money to get home. Phil happily provided the man with cash. Phil’s son, Luke, told his dad that he was being naïve, and had just gotten scammed. Throughout the episode, Phil becomes more and more convinced that Luke is right, and they end up plotting revenge on this man. Of course, in true sitcom style, it is revealed that the man really did know them, and his request for help had been real.
As I laughed my way through the episode, I realized that our uncertainty in how to react in certain situations is very real. Especially as Real Women, we have to travel that fine line between being trusting and friendly, and putting ourselves in possible danger.
I fear the result is that we all end up putting blinders on, and plod through our days only interacting at very safe distances, and only with familiar faces. We become closed off, our invisible force fields up for protection. That is, until we have a moment when we realize there really are kind people still in the world.
Yesterday I was attempting to get my brother into a medical office building for an appointment. He is temporarily in a wheelchair, at least for lengthy distances. The entrance to the building did not have an automatic-open door, so there I was, a novice at wheelchair driving, trying to maneuver him through the doorway while holding open the door with my hip. I hit a threshold in the doorway, and could not get him up and over it. In my attempts to navigate this issue, I dropped the file folder of papers I had clutched under my arm, and sheets of paper started to blow all over the sidewalk. If I was on Modern Family, this would be funny. But this was real life, and it was stressful. As I left my brother sitting halfway through the doorway, I scrambled to gather my papers. I heard a kind older woman’s voice approach and say “oh, honey, let me help you.” This woman I think had been going into the bank next door, but saw my situation and didn’t even pause before coming over to help. By the time she had helped me scoop everything up, there was now a traffic jam in the doorway, of a woman with her two young children, and a gentleman in a suit, all trying to come or go. Again without hesitation, the woman held the door while the man helped me quite literally get my brother over the hump. Of course, those folks may have simply pitched in because we were blocking their way… but no matter the reason, rather than curse at me, or ignore me and not get involved, they took literally less than 60 seconds out of their day to help someone who was struggling: me. I thanked them all profusely. I’m fairly certain that 5 minutes later, they had all forgotten the incident….but I’m still thinking about them, and their kindness, 24 hours later.
This has made me consider the other interactions we each have, or could possibly have, with strangers in our lives… and how good it can feel to make those interactions positive ones. Simple acts like holding a door for someone, smiling and thanking some one, sharing a laugh, or giving a compliment – all tiny little things that can make someone’s day, and our own, just a bit brighter.
Will I start walking down dark alleys late at night in search of a stranger to be kind to? No. Do I still get nervous sending my teen son into a situation on his own? Yes. Are their parts of the world I believe we should avoid visiting due to unrest and danger? Of course. But I think our internal struggles between paranoia and skepticism, and faith and openness, need some balance. Rather than hiding behind blinders and turning the other way, once in a while we should look up, and out, smile and extend a hand. And maybe, just maybe, trust a little bit more.
The Minister at my church often gives us a great send off, reminding us that: Life is short. We don’t have much time to gladden the hearts of others. So be swift to love and make haste to be kind.
Perhaps we can start to see parts of this world that aren’t so scary after all.