The “Epilogue” of my DADT-III book preaches about the moral obligation of individuals (especially those who see themselves as outliers) to “step up” when challenged by the needs of others, including sudden, unscripted or unexpected situations.
I had stopped at a service plaza on the West Virginia Turnpike, I-77, northbound, a bit south of Beckley The parking lot was pretty empty and I had bought some coffee and was carrying it back. After I got into the car a woman (white, middle aged) materialized out of nowhere and says, “Can you lep me? I’m broke down with my babies.”
My first reaction was to the word “babies” (and I didn’t have kids myself).. I knew it could be emotional manipulation. But the words out of my mouth, presumably reacting to the idea of a life-threatening problem of some kind, were “I can call the police on my cell phone for you.”
“Thank you, Sir” she said, and walked away angrily.
Later, as I drove out of the lot, I saw grade-school kids (a boy and a girl) running around the cars and playing.
OK, you way, doesn’t common sense say she “just” needed a jump start? (I did give one on a parking garage returning from New Years Eve a few years ago, but the other people had the cables and knew what they were doing.) Maybe she needed a tire changed. Let’s back up. Had she gotten a jump start, her car would have failed the next time, because probably her alternator had failed. (It’s unlikely she just had left lights on a long time.) She didn’t have the money to pay for old car repairs, and I can imagine other things – like starter, ignition coil. oil leaks and transmissions. Did she need someone to spend all day with her getting her ca towed to a repair shop and hundreds or thousands of dollars for a repair paid for by a goo d Samaritan?
I can recall a female coworker in Dallas back in 1980, lecturing me on the idea that men are supposed to be able to change tires for women. That came to mind.
It’s easy to preach about “personal responsibility”, especially from parents. But a lot of people (especially now in West Virginia) don’t make enough to afford AAA memberships or pay for regular car maintenance and are one incident away from disaster.
It’s also possible, on paper, that she was a scammer, or part of a carjacking team, and that the only safe thing to do is drive away. I drove away when approached at a service plaza on the Ohio Turnpike (north of Akron) on 2010, because I felt it was a threat and told police at the next exit. (This even happened to Mark Zuckerberg once shortly after he moved to California to start Facebook, and he reportedly just drove away suddenly; I thought of that incident when confronted in Ohio and did the same thing.) In this case, with this particular woman, I doubt that. One does think of “imprisoned relative” scams common on the Internet now.
A totally different interpretation of the “stranded mom” situation could be that the helper can attract an instant family, an idea exploited in at least one comedy movie “The Fundamentals of Caring“.
If you want to “moralize”, you can look at a reader’s response to a Dallas Police Department’s advice on dealing with panhandling. A world of hyperindividualism seems to require hunkering down and avoiding the slightest risk or sacrifice that could violate one’s own autonomy. There is some risk in playing Samaritan and it can result in walking in someone else’s shoes indeed, suddenly. Yet when no one is willing to take personal risk for others at all, we see even more people seeing no sense in being expected to follow the law. Look at what happened all over the country last week.
I’ll close this post with a Presbyterian commentary on Matthew 5:42 where Jesus says, “Give to him who asketh thee.”, link. Yes, this is very radical. I’ll come back to this again.
(Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at 1 PM EDT)
Update: Aug. 3
Had an incident Sunday night. On a sidewalk, a woman fell off a bicycle and didn’t get up. That happened as I was stopping at a light on the other side of the street. I waited for the light to change. Someone else without a phone arrived before I did. I called 911. She was able to talk to the operator. When the medics came, she was able to sit up and walk with assistance. I don’t know what happened later.
Cyclists should ride with traffic, observer traffic signals; motorists should always allow cyclists a minimum of 3 feet when passing.