When I was young, I used to love going through my father’s Reader’s Digest collection from the early 70s and finding things to read. One such article I read has stuck in my mind for the last 30 years or so. It was about an incident in a university cafeteria where one of the students; a girl, spills her glass of milk. Everyone around her exclaims and sympathises with her predicament, but only one person gets up, goes to the counter and buys her another glass of milk. The author talked about how most people are paralysed with inertia when something like this happens, and that very few people actually do something practical to help the person in need. She described how ashamed she was to find she herself as one of the majority and that it simply did not occur to her to take action instead of just watching until this other person chose to do so. As a young child of 11 or 12, this story made a huge impression on me and I always promised myself that I would try to be like the person who got up to buy the second glass of milk.
This afternoon an opportunity came up to do so. At first, I hesitated because I was tired and had other commitments. It was only last night that my Englishman and I talked about my tendency to give too much and I had explained that I now made a conscious choice to help instead of reacting blindly whenever someone asked me for something. After considering the matter carefully, I realised that I had to help in this instance because if I didn’t, something quite dire could happen to this person. So I spent the rest of the afternoon helping a stranger, someone I only met this afternoon.
What I wanted to write about was not the fact that I had done that, but that very often when we see someone’s predicament, we choose to do nothing. We console ourselves with the thought that someone else would help or that things are not that bad or even that the person in need doesn’t deserve our help because of x, y and z. But doing nothing is never an option in my opinion. It is the coward’s way out. Sometimes all we can offer is a quick hug or a few words of encouragement. But that is way better than doing nothing, because next time it might be my turn to ask for help. And if that happens, I hope at least one person I approach will do something to help out…..