Yesterday, I was sitting outside of an ice cream parlor with my boyfriend, enjoying an evening treat. A young man came up to us, asking for a quarter. He wanted to make a call. My boyfriend didn't have any change in his pockets. I knew I did, but I let him be the one to decide if we'd help or not. I stayed quiet. When my boyfriend said, "No, no change," the young man walked away. As he was walking away, I kept looking at him, wondering if he'd get to make his call. Why didn't I offer him the change I had in my purse? Fear? I didn't trust what he really wanted? I don't know for sure. But I felt bad. I could have helped, and I chose not to.
It wasn't at all like the other day when I was at a meeting and, at the close, the emcee asked everyone to pick up after themselves. He suggested, "If you've left a bottle on the table, can you put in the trash?"
At my table in front, which I had moved to for the second half of the day, there were several bottles in front of me. I'd already tossed my trash in the garbage during a break. My seatmate, who had been sitting in the front all day, said to me, referring to several empty bottles on the table, "I've got my bottle. Are these yours?" I said, "No." And she walked away, leaving the bottles there on top of the table. She didn't offer to pick them up. I don't think she even thought about it. But I was left to think about my response.
I had a choice. I could pick up those bottles that weren't mine, or I, too, could walk away.
There was actually one bottle left on the table in front of me that hadn't even been opened. So, after I visited the recycling bin to toss the empty bottles away, I took the still-perfectly-good bottle of water to the kitchen area and returned it to a half-open box on the counter where it could be used again.
I then went back to the meeting room and started picking up other bottles. It's what I do after almost every meeting I attend with this group. We're a large group, and not everyone cleans up after themselves. It's always been that way. So I stay to help a bit with the others who do the same. We all know it's appreciated. It only takes a few moments of our time. So I'm always slightly stunned when I notice the person who won't take that one extra step--especially in this group, which was founded on the basis of "help one another." It's just a few steps extra over to the garbage can or recycling bin.
So this person sitting next to me decided not to help, but then I made a similar choice not to help that poor boy in front of the ice cream parlor. It would have only taken me a few extra steps--dig in my purse, open the zipper, pull out change, hand to the boy. But I didn't do it.
Then yesterday, I had another opportunity to help, and I chose to do it, only I didn't even have to think about it much. One person needed a source for a story and asked a group of friends for referrals. I don't know who else responded to him, but I knew I might have a source or two he could use. So I looked up the information and sent it to him right away. He responded greatfully, even saying he thought he definitely could use the information. He seemed surprised, though, and thought it was "too kind." Not only had I responded to his source request, but I had also given him additional information where he could possibly find more. I took the extra step or two, because I knew it would be helpful to him. I really didn't think much about it. I knew I could help, so I did.
So what's the difference between helping this man versus not helping the young boy? Why did I make two different choices?
If you were similar situations, what would you have done? I know you'd appreciate it if you were the one who was helped in either case. But if you could help a colleague, a stranger, a friend--even if it meant extra minutes out of your day--would you? Would your response depend on the situation, the place, the time of day, the type of help needed? What is it that fuels our desire to help?
If you want to live in a world where you can find peace and joy and fullfillment, wouldn't that happen if we were always willing to stand up and do more than what's just required. Yes, my seatmate picked up her bottle, as she was asked, but she chose not to do any more than that. Yes, I wanted to help that young man make his phone call, but I didn't.
We need to be more aware of how we can supply help when it's requested. In today's world, where we spend much of our time online, I realize it may seem more difficult to help others. It may make things less personal. But it also may make helping an easier thing to do, because it's safe. For instance, on Twitter, even though you get all kinds of requests all day long, and it would be impossible to fill all the needs, the help you can provide is more often than not right at your fingertips...and you're in control of it. Someone needs a link to a site, you have it, and can provide it in seconds. Or, someone asks you to visit his blog or take her poll. You can click to the Web site immediately. It only takes a few seconds, and no one's peering at you, waiting. You can then exit Twitter (without anyone knowing where you are) to take care of your other obligations and return later to start the process all over again. Or, come back another day.
I realize there are a billion ways you can "twitter" away your time online and at home, and even in the office. But helping each other is the most basic way to start and build relationships, whether it is online or in person. You can do that by helping to clean up a room after a meeting, providing information that you have on hand to someone who needs it, by visiting each other's blogs, by reading each other's articles, by buying what your colleagues are selling (if it is of use to you, of course). It only takes a few seconds to do something significant for someone else.
If there's a safety issue involved, okay, you probably do need to proceed with caution. But what if I made my decision not to help because there wasn't going to be anything in it for me? No relationship gained. No return favor granted. No payment.
No payment? That's not exactly true. Every time you help another human being, it makes you feel good. Plain and simple.
So next time someone asks for your help, whether it's for a quarter to make a call or contact information to finish a job, do you know what you'll do. Will you help or walk away?
Which response is going to be the one that leaves you feeling best about yourself?
Think about it...because that next time's coming. And when that time comes, come back here and post about it. We'd like to know how you feel.