Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pride goeth before the haul

I did my Good Deed for the day yesterday.  It's the kind of thing that makes me tell other people, "Well, after this I'm allowed to go smack liitle children or kick dogs, because I've already done my Good Deed."

What was really, interesting to me, though, was why I almost didn't do it.  I was having an out-of-body experience wondering what was so hard about doing that Good Deed.  Here's what happened.

I was getting off the train in Boston (why Boston?  Why, that's where the big math meetings are happening right now.  Me and my closest 6000 friends are here.  Natch!)  And behind me, there was an older woman struggling with huge pieces of luggage.  Her husband, behind her, was no help.  The conductor moved the bags onto the platform just far enough to clear out the clog and let the people through.  Moses of Amtrak.

So, I'm there on the platform, people swarming past, and I'm looking back over my shoulder at this couple teetering under their baggage.  Short version of the story:  I ask if they need help.  She says yes.  I haul their heavy suitcase up to the cab, allowing them to pull the wheeled bags behind themselves without teetering.  Good Deed done.

What got the cogs in the head spinning was that it wasn't hauling the luggage that was the hard part.  The hard part was walking back and asking the woman if they needed help.  The decision.  Not the deed.  I know enough about the Bystander Effect to know that it's harder to offer help when other people are around.  But I think it was also pride, or fear of rejection.  What if she thinks I'm a terrorist? Or a thief?  Or a scam artist?  What if she judges me (or, really, misjudges me)?  And what if other people in the station do, too?

I am so caught up in myself, it's scary.

I've been the recipient in the past of brave people's actions.  Perhaps I was inspired yesterday because S.F., who didn't know me, reached out to me a few days ago and made my life that much better.  (Thanks, S.F.!)  Certainly hers was one of the many voices in my head.  My take-charge, military husband's voice was probably another.  (The awful pun in the title of this post is for him; I apologize to everyone else).

It turns out, the couple was going to their home about 2 blocks from my hotel.  We shared a cab; they paid.  So the Good Deed gets rewarded in the end -- it looks like I don't get smack any kids or kick any dogs, after all.  

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