A look at relationships, personal growth, & living/working in the 21st century.

Posts tagged ‘altruism’

The Urban Good Samaritan – a random act of kindness

This morning on public transit a situation occurred which made me think about human decency, altruism, and my own thought processes. In an otherwise quiet train car, a woman sitting across the aisle from me began to loudly ask passengers for help getting something to eat. I’m accustomed to such public requests-given I live in Chicago-although I would guess most pleas I hear tend to be for money, rather than food. The woman’s desparation certainly sounded sincere, unlike many able-appearing individuals who give the impression that they maintain a certain emotional distance as they beg in public. The crowd of people initially kept looking forward or down and did not respond. After the woman had repeatedly asked for assistance getting food, a well-dressed, 20-something-year-old man, sitting immediately in front of me, unzipped his courier bag, withdrew a banana, and handed it to the apparently hungry woman. The man made this gesture with almost no personal interaction other than the critical act of helping someone in need. He said nothing, and apparently never even made eye contact with the person he helped. The woman quickly started eating the banana and then paused to offer a brief, yet loud thanks to the man. The man continued staring forward and did not respond again.
Observing what occurred on the train really made me think. I must say, this situation even provoked some guilt in me. I very rarely give any money to those begging in the streets. I believe in philanthropy and I once participated in a walk to raise awareness (and money) for the mentally ill. The woman on the train likely had her own mental health issues, based on her overall presentation. Although I have worked with the mentally ill, when hearing the woman’s pleas, I found myself avoiding any consideration of trying to be helpful. I even had two packages of snacks in my bag (cheese/crackers), as well as my actual lunch, but I kept thinking selfishly that I couldn’t afford to be taking care of anyone else’s needs.
What does it take to move someone from the place of being an uninvolved observer to stepping up and acting as a good samaritan? I remember my Grandmother reading me the bible story of the good samaritan, and I recall her example of donating money, and her time, to what she deemed worthy causes. She was never wealthy but still gave what she felt she could. So, why did I remain uninvolved given what I was taught? I had extra snacks with me and could easily have afforded to give away a $.33 package of snack crackers, leaving myself another package to spare (and my lunch). Further, this woman was asking for food, not money. Thus, her ability to use my gift inappropriately was unlikely. This issue of asking for food, as opposed to money, is one I often tell myself makes such pleas for assistance more palatable and worthy of sympathy. Hopefully, after this experience I will move toward making a behavior change and consider giving of myself appropriately. After all, at the end of the day, if I had given up some of my crackers, it would not have put any real hardship on me. When I layed down for the night, I still had a roof over my head and food in my kitchen. Further, I still had some unpaid bills which no snack crackers could have paid. Wish me luck in changing into a more giving person. Tomorrow’s another day and I’ll be back on that same train. Maybe those random acts of kindness really are worth aspiring to. We can make a difference-one person at a time. What do you think?