WHEN DID I REACH OUT?
Some qualities of helpful communities titrated from a personal experience
I am a meek person, so I think it might be worthwhile for me to think through when I broke through my natural reserve and fear to help a person in need. It was Minneapolis, Minnesota in the 1990s. I was walking with a friend around 10 at night and we encountered a man in his late teens or early 20s crying near a gas station. My impulse was to get away from the man, because I felt that any engagement might require work and risk. My friend's impulse was to ask questions and create a short list of actions and resources for the man. It turned out he had cerebral palsy and had gotten lost. He did have i.d. and a phone number we could call. Our assistance brought the gas station attendant into our group and he volunteered to wait with the man until assistance came. Lessons I took away from that night:
1. All it takes is one helpful person to make a couple or a group open-hearted. I wasn't that person to begin with, but being around such a person modeled such qualities for me.
2. Being task-oriented and creating intermediate goals can make a task manageable. In this case, the tasks were finding out what was wrong and locating a phone number.
3. Service attendants can be made part of the helpful group. Public areas like gas stations, restaurants, and corner stores might well be deployed as help and learning centers.
4. Figuring out how to make ad-hoc assistance easier in communities should be a priority. School curriculum? Social club discussion topic? There should be something like "Stop. Drop. And Roll" for people who see public violence or other forms of harrassment, as well as any form of need or disorientation, in urban spaces. Bottom line: have kind, useful people get to the disoriented and weak before anyone else does. Create a culture where such intervention is common and problems will decrease.