Earlier today I heard “excuse me sir, could you help me? My car broke down and I need gas to get my wife and kids on the road to go home to Minneapolis. I need help, I’m out of money-could you help?” I smiled at him and made eye contact as my mind raced (I’ll tell him “let me move my snake to the back seat first so we can get you some gas) , what if he is telling the truth? How do I know?
Maybe it’s where I live or my upbringing or my natural default system to believe people first and ask questions later. My arms were full of packages as I walked past him and in the door of the post office. “I’ll give you a ride to your car and your family and we will see how I can help” I said. I put the packages in the mail box inside and turned to talk some more to this needy stranger but I could see through the glass door that he was already crossing the street the opposite direction. I guess I was not very clear about my intentions to help. How do you really know when someone is lying, scamming, or being deceitful? They don’t make lie detector apps (yet) and they wouldn’t work on people who believed themselves anyway. If this young man was not trying to scam me he probably thought he should not get a ride with a stranger. You think? Several scenarios went through my head but it seemed not to matter anymore because this guy was not interested in my help. I drove away muttering unintelligent comments to myself and coming up with more one liners for the next scam artist I encountered.
I know there will always be people who will lie, cheat, and steal. I also know that my response to their character matters not to them, but it does to me. Cynical is easy and probably hurts the cynic as well as those on the other end. Handing out a couple of dollars is just as easy and probably encourages the panhandlers to keep panning. Offering some kind of relationship in the middle of the lie is harder, full of risk, and may someday actually find someone who is being honest about their need.
I will always remember my fathers example about how others show us our character. Dad was getting his masters degree at a nearby university when he opened the door for an outspoken woman who quickly challenged him about his motives. “I suppose you opened the door because I’m a woman” she snapped. “No mam, I opened the door because I’m a gentleman” said dad.
In some ways it’s impossible to know those people who may have an agenda at our expense. Rather than viewing others as a potential win-lose situation, could we not view it as a challenge to all involved that character and people matter probably more than our money or our problems. So really, why do we need to know?
A penny for your thoughts (that’s all I have left)