Last night, I was in the parking lot sitting alone in a car waiting for someone. My phone had died so I was just taking in the surroundings of the people coming and going when a man in a wheelchair made his way through the cars. Eventually, he arrived at his SUV parked in the handicapped zone and unlocked the door. He was older, and I watched him struggle to unbelt himself from the chair and begin to make his way into the drivers seat. My first impression was to jump out and help him but after a two-count, I thought that might be a bit presumptuous. I mean, I assume he managed to drive there and get in and out before and I didn’t want to come off as insulting. Maybe this was his every day life, in and out of that car. Maybe he had been doing this for months or years or his entire life. Maybe he was born disabled and this was all he knew or maybe he lost the use of his legs when he was young or maybe he was hit by a drunk driver last year. Truth is, I didn’t know.
What I also didn’t know was if he has been the drunk driver. I didn’t know if maybe one night, he was driving home drunk and crashed into a family of three and he was the only one who lived because that seems to be how fate likes to deal those cards. Maybe he suffered from diabetes because he ate too much McDonalds and had his legs amputated. Maybe he was angry at the world and shouted racist tirades at the television when our president showed his face. Truth is, I wouldn’t know.
What I did know was that my first instinct was to help this man. Someone who had been dealt a hand that made his every day life a little more difficult living in this world and all I wanted to do was help make a portion of his every day life a little easier. Maybe by helping him lift his wheelchair into the back or just closing the door for him.
Now he made it inside just fine and drove away. And maybe that’s just a testament to his strength and tenacity or maybe his condition simply wasn’t as bad as it looked. Again, I didn’t know. But what I do know is that sometimes people need help. You, me, our parents, our neighbors, strangers, homeless, people with bad attitudes, and people who have simply been dealt a shitty hand. You don’t know their story and you shouldn’t make aspersions on their character simply because you are threatened by their implied weakness.
Now who knows - maybe I would have approached him and offered him help and he would have denied it out of pride. Or because he’s a stubborn asshole. Or maybe because he simply didn’t need it. See, I didn’t know because I didn’t know him… and I certainly didn’t know his story.
I once read a Facebook status that read something to the effect of, “And I didn’t give money to this homeless man because he was wearing Nikes.”
And I replied, “I once applied for welfare wearing $200 jeans. They were two years old and bought with a 50% discount back when I could afford it but I had gotten to the point where I could no longer feed myself and just needed a couple months of help. You don’t know his story and it’s presumptuous for you to make assumptions on someone’s life, struggle, story, when they are outright ASKING FOR HELP.”
Are there people out there who take advantage of the generosity of others? Of course. Are they always homeless? No. Are they always people of color? No. Are they always broke and poor? No. Greed knows no color, class, or tax bracket. But thankfully, most people are not greedy. Most people won’t aggressively go out of their way to take advantage people like us. Does it happen? Sure. Is it the norm? Not even close.
So when someone approaches you, begging for help. Someone who has shamed themselves to the point of asking a stranger for something, anything to make their every day life a little easier - don’t assume the worst. Don’t make assumptions about their character and don’t have the audacity to think you know their story.
The truth is this, at some point we will all need help. Whether it is from our friends or our families, whether it is to ask our parents with help to pay rent or a loan to buy a house or a neighbor to watch our dogs or our friends to pick up our kids - we can’t do this alone. None of us. Not you and not me. And sometimes those people need to ask for help. And sometimes they need help but are to proud or shameful to ask for it. And sometimes there are people out there who don’t have anyone. Because they left abusive homes or because all the people they loved have left. You don’t know their story. So don’t ever let anyone make you feel guilty for your empathy.
And the biggest problem is when we don’t act like we’re all on the same team. We’re all in this together and sometimes we need help and sometimes other people need help and there’s nothing wrong with asking.