I was driving around the other day. One of the two days we had rain in the last several months. I had just gotten gas, and was on my way to a friend’s house when I noticed a girl using her backpack as an umbrella as she walked down the street. The high school had just gotten out of class, and I imagine she was probably walking home.
This situation upset me a bit, because as a person, I’d have liked to stop and give her a ride home. I wasn’t in a hurry, and her walk seemed rather unpleasant. But society has taught both me and that girl that that is inappropriate. I could not be kind simply because it would have put me in a position of power, and were I a worse person, something bad could have happened. There was nothing I would have been able to do to help her outside of driving to the store, buying her an umbrella, and bringing it to her.
The worst part is, if I had pulled over and managed to convince her I was trustworthy, the conclusion to draw from that would be that she is too trusting a person. Sure, I would have just driven her home (or wherever she was going) and been about my way, but wouldn’t that give her the impression that the world is a better place than it actually is? If the person pulling over to help her was anyone other than me, whom I would claim to know somewhat well, I would advise against getting in the car. So if I had helped her, and everything went well, I would only teach her that it’s okay to do that, when it’s not, because any time you put yourself at the mercy of a stranger is an extremely dangerous risk.
I think the takeaway here that our society (at least where I live) is very distrusting of strangers, and in some ways that’s a good thing. But in this case, it means that kindness cannot take the simplest, most direct route. It’s a shame, but it’s probably better this way. I imagine any times and places where this situation would be innocuous would also end up getting a lot of people hurt.
Obviously, I’ll say that kindness is something our world could use more of, but I think that statement will always be applicable. We simply have to find appropriate ways of doing it that don’t teach strangers the wrong lessons. Also, another thing people don’t seem to realize about helping strangers is that it makes one feel better about oneself. This is another can of worms, but I don’t believe in altruism. I think people do selfless acts because it allows them to feel better about themselves. At least, I know that’s why I do nice things.
So maybe helping people shouldn’t primarily be about forcing other people to trust you in order to prove your intentions are virtuous. Maybe we should focus on doing little things that allow both parties to walk away happier.