At first glance these seem like simple questions, but beneath it is a deeper implication into our actions. We may want others to help us, we may want others to trust us, but we are reluctant to give these things to others. We may want our children to believe in the ideals but we quickly teach them to distrust others. It makes sense, strangers bring danger. Trust means vulnerability. We do not want others to take advantage of us.
I bring this up because I have had an experience that has left me puzzled. A man approached me in a parking lot. He was an average looking guy, with no distinguishing features whatsoever. He asked me if I could help him out. I asked him what he needed. He told me that he ran out of gas and he doesn’t have a cell phone. His name is Chris, he works at the hospital and he needs money to put gas in his car and get home to get his wallet. He will return to pay me back when he gets his wallet. His story was thin. I remember thinking it was thin from the beginning. But then this thought crossed my mind — “What am I doing with the money I have on me? Is there a better use for your money than helping another person? You help him, he comes back, something marvelous has occurred: humanity proves to be trustworthy. You help him he doesn’t return you’re out $20 that you were going to spend on Chinese food. You don’t help him you will never know, and a stranger feels the sting of rejection and the continuing want of his present poverty.“ I had all of these thoughts in an instant. I gave him $20. He thanked me profusely and told me that he’d meet me in that exact spot in exactly 15 minutes. I told him OK and I waited.
To be honest I didn’t need him to come back, I would have gladly just given him the money if he had asked. But he offered to return, so in a gesture of trust I waited. I waited for 35 minutes and I knew he was not going to return. But for the sake of humanity I held onto the hope that he would be there at any moment. Many of the people reading this story will not be surprised to find out that he never came back. As I went on with my evening, I felt hurt. Not because someone would take advantage of my naïve confidence in human kind. Not that someone had taken for me. I felt sad that Chris didn’t feel like he had any other way to get money. That the only way he could help himself was to take advantage of the flickering light of trust that fewer and fewer people possess. Maybe this sounds arrogant, but I felt like a father that has discovered his son taking money from his wallet. I felt profound disappointment and pain of betrayal from someone that I love, because I love humankind. I can’t just turn my back on people because they disappoint me. But what am I to do? I went home without dinner and let my empty stomach talk me through my dilemma.
If I stop trusting people the world will seem that much colder and unwelcoming. If I trust people the Chris’s of the world will find ways to take advantage of me and collectively make humanity less trustworthy. If I give people everything then I will need to ask them for something to survive, not only that I will be taking money from my family and others that I love. I want so desperately to live in a world where we are surrounded by potential friends and comrades, rather than a world where every strange face belongs to a thief. I would like to live in a place where it isn’t naïve to believe people who say they need $5 for the bus or change to call home. How do I make that world a reality? Is it even worth the effort? I like to believe that Chris really needed my money, that he bought himself or someone he loves food or shelter. Perhaps he intended to pay me back but was detained or detoured or lost. Any myriad of things could have happened that I cannot conceive. Maybe the world isn’t such a bad place; or maybe it is.
Help me Spokane; I don’t know what to think. I’m probably just a foolish man who should just learn my lesson that people are not to be trusted. Was I wrong to give Chris a chance? Is there any hope for humanity?