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5/31/11

The difficulty of being a good samaritan in the 21st century

My Memorial Day post yesterday (link) talked about the subject of heroes behind the scenes; people who simply do the right thing, because it's the right thing to do.

But I have noticed it's getting harder and harder to be a good samaritan in this age.  The need is out there, but you don't see people stepping up to the plate, rolling up their sleeves, and helping others nearly as much as you used to.

And I think I know why...

To show my point, I want to share two stories of me helping others.  The first one happened while I was in college, the other happened this weekend.

Rewind back to the early 2000's.  I was a sophomore in college and doing rather well for myself.  I was on the Dean's List, was pretty well-known on campus, and life was good.  One evening I was walking to the library for my normal study routine, when someone asked me for help.  He told me he was new to the campus and was looking for the library.  I offered to show him the way.

30 seconds later, I had a gun shoved into my gut.  He threatened to shoot me if I made a sound, and demanded I hand over my backpack, wallet, phone, and anything else in my pockets.  I was robbed, and lucky he didn't shoot me anyway (after all, I had a GOOD look at his face...).  I was shaken to the core, and became fairly reclusive around strangers for a LONG time.

You read these types of stories in the papers fairly regularly.  You see them on news reports.  People take advantage of nice guys all the time.  The words "I need your help" evoke a feeling in people that sometimes makes it hard to say no.  Sadly, it leaves you vulnerable for attack.

Back to the present.  This weekend I was out driving.  It was raining pretty hard.  An 8 year old comes up to me and asks "Hey mister, I need help.  Can you possibly give my brother and I a ride home in the rain?  We only live about a mile away..."

I say sure, and he signals to his brother (who, at this point, I couldn't see).  Brother is about 20, and has a 60lb pitbull on a chain.  I think it was going to be a couple of kids, but all of a sudden I'm taking home a ragged, pupils-dilated adult and his pet.

I try to assume the best in people, and still offer them all a ride home.  But in the back of my head, I'm thinking exit strategy.  What if he sics the dog on me? What if he has a gun?  What if they try to take my car?  My money?  My life?

It was a quick drive, and none of the bad stuff happened, but the flashback of a gun knocking the wind out of me was enough to shake me up for a little bit.

I ended up doing my good deed for the day but almost drove off, leaving the kid and his sketchy brother in the rain.  Not because I'm a bad person, but because there are bad people out there.  One bad scenario like mine, and you get conditioned to be on the defensive.  Was I quick to judge?  Back in college, no.  Now, yes.  In both cases, expectation and result did not match.

I want to be a good samaritan.  I like helping others who cannot help themselves.  I like doing a good deed, just for the sake of doing it.  The words "thank you" are the most precious gift I have ever received, and will ever receive.

But at what point do your defenses go back down?  I don't know.

With puppies, it's so much easier.


My submission to Dude Write Ocho.
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35 witty retorts:

Mynx said...

I cant imagine how scary that would have been but it certainly understandable that you would hesitate to put yourself out for people. Trust is so easily dammaged and so hard to repair.

The Angry Lurker said...

In my job as security officer I don't trust most people even though you want to, over the years some of them have tried to introduce edged items into my person, shoot me or just be an asshole, you are right to be wary even when nothing happened this time.

KrowOne said...

That was one long read, but was well worth it. God I feel lucky to be in a country where its rare to see people apart from the police walking around with guns.

Lady Estrogen said...

Yikes! That must have been horrifying - it really pisses me off when shit like that happens to people. Really, really.
I often go the extra mile to help people and *usually* get shit on in the end - it's also sad, but I'll never stop doing it.

Zombie said...

ya just dont see good people around these days...

Claude said...

That sounds really horrible, I don't know if I could get to the stage you're at now after an event like that. I'm also glad guns aren't really an issue here in Australia, I don't know how I'd feel living in America.

AmberLaShell said...

Being a woman, I get scared anytime someone approaches me to ask for help. It's hard to trust people when you read and see all the bad things that happens to good samaritans... Now, when I want to help, I donate time or money to a charity (a well known one)...

<a href="http://www.amberlashell.com/>Amber LaShell Rants</a>

The Minute Man's Wife said...

I commend you for still putting yourself out there after getting robbed.

Why do we keep getting into relationships even after we've been hurt? It's the same thing, my friend.

We all have the need to be loved and needed.

Melanie said...

I really try to look for the good, but like you said, there are a lot of bad people out there which really does make it hard. If this makes you feel any better, I spent my entire Memorial Day doing yard work for a Vietnam Vet!

Kicking Rocks said...

in america, you can get sued for helping!

Random Girl said...

I hate to say it but I am kind of the same way, like always planning an exit strategy or thinking of what could go wrong if I helped someone, just a fear I have. I am equally as leery when someone offers to help me, like what is the hidden agenda, kill me, rape me, steal my kid? Who knows?I hate to think about it like that but I also don't want to be naive and end up paying for it either you know? It's a hard thing to work around when you are a good hearted person who genuinely cares about and wants to help others.

Rob said...

I just make people laugh every where I go, that's an easy good deed, or sometimes if I see someone has dropped something I help them. Always have a knife on me though, just to be safe lol.

duffboi said...

I can't say I've ever had such a negative experience as you while helping someone. I can be gullible tho, and being aware of this, I try to be cautious. Still tho, I'm an optimist and I really enjoy helping people and just being nice. Come to think of it, I've only been sketchy of one instance of helping someone, and I put myself into that situation, in college as well. At some frat near where I lived, I was walking by and some guy had a girl cornered against the wall of the house, yelling at her. She was in tears, and I approached, and redirected the guy's rage towards myself. Perhaps not the smartest approach, but I couldn't stomach what I was witnessing, and I couldn't just ignore it. The girl made her exit, and the guy made threats, but I remained calm, and after the girl left, I made a casual and cautious exit. Frats still leave a bad taste in my mouth tho. ick.

Chris Phillips said...

Good thought. This weekend I ran down a ball that was rolling down the street for a 2 year old who wasn't being watched very carefully. Didn't want the dad to come out and think I was some creeper, but that was outweighed by not wanting him getting plastered by a car on his way down the street after the ball on my conscience.

Nom de Plume said...

shit I don't know WHAT I'd do if I had a gun pointed at me

Autumnforest said...

I'm reminded of CPR training when the paramedics said, "sure, it's good to save people when you can, but if it's at the risk of your own life, don't do it." So, if someone were caught inside of a car with a downed power pole in the rain, you wait for the professionals to turn off the power. I remember one time, I was going into a store and a blind woman was leaving. She looked confused. I approached her and said. "My name is Sharon. You look confused. Can I help you?" She wanted a telephone. I told her I'd guide her to the phone just inside the door. I waited with her as she made the call and guided her outside for her family to come and pick her up. When the car arrived and the husband got out and came over, I asked for his name and ID before I handed her over. That didn't take but a few minutes of my time and no personal risk. You have to judge each one. Always consider if you're going to be alone with the person. That's always the biggest risk. Never let someone segregate you, approach you when you're alone or get into your car when you're alone. But, I think you realize that one, it's why bells and whistles went off.

D4 said...

I try to be good, but I always make sure I'm not alone, if I am I look for a way around things. I would've offered the kid a taxi, for example. Of course the dog would've made that useless, but it would've been my first offer.

kitkat said...

wwwow the gun story is fricin scary! i dnt blame u for being scared of playing the good samaritan role. there are so many bad people that try to take advantage of the samaritan in people :/
and OMG i wld die if a pitbull is in the same car as me.

Xenototh said...

When it comes to helping people, if it is safe for me, I have no problem doing it, but when it puts me in a situation where I might die, I think I am good. Gave a ride home to some poor drunk guy who got his ass stomped and was clearly scared (he was carrying a knife). Worst idea in hind sight, but yeah, I got my help the scary random dude thing done.

J. S. said...

Reading this, I must applaud you on continuing to help others despite the incident you had to go through while in college. It's because of incidents like those that the bystander effect is such a problem, where people don't help others because they believe someone else will come along to risk being the good Samaritan. Very fascinating post.

The Empress said...

Your reluctance is certainly understandable. All it takes is one bad experience to leave an otherwise helpful person on guard. The kid and his sketchy brother were very lucky that you were willing to help them out with a ride.

On another note, thank you for always bringing a smile to my day!

The Ranter's Box

Colin Biano said...

"I'M ALLERGIC TO DOGS, OH GOD" you scream in a panic as you peel off

Ally said...

Wow what a story. I cannot believe you were robbed, how awful. I mean, in college we trust people so deeply, even though they show us those warning videos during orientation. I have to say I don't think I'd let anyone in my car, no matter what, thank gawd you made it okay out of that one. I was nervous just reading about it.

FourthGradeNothing.com

Thank, Q said...

Dude, you're better than me. I don't trust anyone! I wouldn't give a nun a ride if she had a Bible in one hand and ashes of Martin Luther King in the other. I hate to be that way, but I'm very skeptical of people these days. Some nuts will take the most innocent situation and turn it into a robbery homicide and I'm not trying to be a leading news story that evening. Now, I will admit that the guy who asked you for directions years ago would have fooled me, too. That seems harmless and anyone would have done what you did... Well, until now. I'm done giving directions now. You want directions? GPS it, mofo.

Joey said...

We live in a such a society of fear that even people who've never been in a similar situation as yours are constantly afraid. It's sad, really.

Wily Guy said...

I'm probably a little opposite. I am less likely to help when someone asks than when I feel help is needed. I have stopped and offered rides to walkers when it is too hot. I have helped old ladies load their groceries.

WG

Joe said...

I don't think there is an easy answer. Each time you just have to go with your gut.

Michael A. Walker said...

It's true, there are risks to being a good Samaritan sometimes, and I can't even imagine going through was you did. But, in the long run, I believe we have to keep trying. You have to pick your spots, and I think giving your history you would have been justified to drive off in that situation.

Don't stop being a good guy. The world is a better place for it.

Michael A. Walker
Defying Procrastination

Rusty said...

You can't tell. There will always be pricks, and there will always be people in need. Its a tough question

Youngman Brown said...

Sometimes, you just need to draw a line.

See, my fear of giving a kid a ride home is that something bad will happen, as in they would claim that I raped them or something. Crazy world we live in.

Chris Bird said...

Being a trucker, I've come across a lot of folks needing help, but I've found a lot of people are leery to accept it. Mostly in the US cities, but some in Canada too. It makes me sad that people have to be worried that the person helping might want to harm them. I guess they maybe have had bad experiences like you did, but the shoe was on the other foot.

Kevin said...

I hear ya on it being tough to do the right thing, I am heavily involved in the Boy Scouts and obviously we try to "Do A Good Turn Daily" but with all the bad people out there it is getting harder and harder to do that. I mean I will old the door for an elderly person or help them lift something into their car, but man you are braver than I am with giving those kids a ride.

Stephen Hayes said...

It's always wise to be cautious and wary, but I've found that when you look for something you usually find it. I look for the good in people and I'm rarely disappointed. I enjoyed reading your fine post.

Workingdan said...

It's a dog eat dog world! Unfortunately, these days most of the dogs have rabies!

Chiz said...

Wow, that's horrifying. I try to be a good samaritan, but if anything like that ever happened to me, you can bet your behind that I'd be shoving off the next person that asks for my help. Kudos for still seeing the good in people. Unfortunately, with the economy being so bad and all, these occurs are becoming ever more frequent.

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