Updated: Jul 30, 2021
I was born and raised in Oklahoma, where you help people, whether you know them or not.
It was so engrained in my DNA that in second grade, during a timed math test, I started blatantly telling my friend the answers when I saw she wasn’t going to finish in time.
My teacher called me into the hallway and politely started a life-long lesson in learning about boundaries. She likely addressed cheating as well.
Fast forward to a year or two after I moved to NYC, and I was in the grocery store checkout line. The man in front of me was removing his grocery items from his cart one at a time, using only one hand.
I was well-versed in how quickly grocery clerks like to move people along, often scanning the next person’s groceries while my receipt is still printing.
Here was a man who needed help. He was moving at a snail’s pace, not a New York City pace.
I picked up two items from his cart, using both of my hands, and handed them in his direction.
He looked at me with what I could only describe as disgust and said, “Are you in a hurry?” in a way that communicated, “How dare you! You evil, vile excuse for a human being!”
With the wind knocked out of my confidence, tears burning in my eyes, and a shame-filled lump in my throat, I mumbled something conveying “no” and released his groceries.
And then I painstakingly stood there, vibrating with emotions, trying not to show my embarrassment … while he continued loading the conveyer belt with his groceries … one item at a time.
It was a long time after that before I allowed myself to offer to help someone else, no matter the circumstances. I received the clear, soul-crushing message that no one in New York needs help from anyone.
But is that true?
I’m still learning boundaries. When I see someone who needs help, do I help? Or just leave them to suffer?
What would you do?