There’s been a bit of talk about kindness in the blogasphere lately. Mark Hayward of My Tropical Escape is talking about how kindness can make the world a better place at Zen Habits and Al at 7P Productions generated a great discussion about the same topic last week with “Why should I help you?”.
If you have read my article, The Power of a Kind and Generous Soul, you’ll know my mom instilled in me the importance of being warm, compassionate and helpful to others. I was taught to always give out what I wanted to get back. And since I enjoy harmony, enthusiasm and generosity in life, I try to deliver that to others as much as I can.
The Downside of Being Kind
We don’t like to talk about it but we all know it does exist. If we are kind, we can be used and taken advantage of because of our generosity. In worse case scenarios, we may even be so kind and trusting that we actually bring harm to ourselves.
The internet is full of stories of people who formed online friendships or relationships and were then conned out of money or even lured to their deaths. Cynics may scoff these people are gullible, but I see it more that they were kind without the self esteem to draw appropriate boundaries, or maybe they exercised poor judgment and paid the price.
If we believe in the virtue of kindness, where do we draw the line? How do we know that we are being kind versus being stupid?
I’ve asked myself these questions a bit this week because on Monday night I did something that some people may see as kind and generous, and others could argue was risky and irresponsible.
I Let A Stranger Into My Car
It was a pretty standard night. I cooked dinner, badgered my son to eat, and then we drove down to the train station where we pick up his dad from work. Usually MusicMan gets to our meeting place first and we just head right off, but Monday night his train was late, so I parked on a side street to wait.
It was dark, but there was plenty of traffic and the train station is well lit, so I felt perfectly safe despite the rather run-down motel nearby. Bunny and I were listening to music and waiting when I noticed a young woman walking unsteadily up the sidewalk from the direction of the motel. She was about 19 and dressed like she was going for a night out.
I paid her no mind until she suddenly stopped beside my car and tapped on the front passenger window.
Surprised, I stared at her a moment before lowering the window a bit. My first thought was she’s going to ask me for cash and I was mulling over my answer when she fixed wide bloodshot eyes on me, clutched at the window with shaking hands and asked me to drive her to a suburb about five minutes away.
I really hadn’t expected that and didn’t know what to say. She starts telling me that she’s just got into a huge fight with some people and they tried to hurt her and pull her into an alley. I immediately sympathize with her, but tell her I’m waiting for someone.
She begs me to take her now and I look over my shoulder, hoping MusicMan would just get here already. But he’s nowhere in sight and she’s pleading, so I say yes I’ll drive her, but after my husband arrives. She is grateful and asks if she can get in the car while we wait. A little worrying voice starts up in my head, but she’s already opening the door and the sight of her is so pathetic I agree.
The minute she’s in the car, Bunny pipes up from the back seat with a sunny “Hi” and I realize his presence really makes me a whole lot less comfortable with this situation.
She was on drugs. I used to be a steady user myself. I know the signs. And she wasn’t just mellow high, she was agitated and incapable of holding a train of thought. She must have asked me my name four or five times and her jitters were so bad I doubt it was from fear alone.
Once she continued the story of her attackers they were no longer strangers, but friends of friends she’d been partying with in the motel and things had got out of control (as they do with drugs).
All this had me watching her like a hawk wondering if this was a scam to divert my attention so her friends could jump me, or if she was a nut case who posed an actual threat herself.
The upside was MusicMan was due any minute and the girl was a slip of a thing, probably 15-20kg lighter than me and 20cm shorter. I was wearing my chunky rings and I’m pretty strong, so I wasn’t worried about dealing with her one-on-one if necessary.
But none of this changed the fact that my 4 year old was in the back and I felt like I had created a less than safe environment for him.
As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. MusicMan came and told her to stay in the front so he could sit with Bunny in the back. We survived an awkward conversation and a weird sexual advance, drove her home and heaved a huge sigh of relief when we dropped her off. MusicMan thought I’d done the right thing by helping her, but we both agreed she was a girl with serious problems.
Was I Kind or Stupid?
As I write this, I still am unsure I agree with MusicMan. With hindsight I know she posed no threat so I’m glad I helped her. I was a vulnerable young girl twenty years ago and people have helped me out of some bad situations in my life, particularly in my drug using years. But still it doesn’t sit well with me. Having my child in that situation scared me.
I don’t know if I did the right thing, I really don’t.
What do you think? Did my kindness make me do something stupid?
Photo by jungle/arctic