There are those who argue that first and foremost, it is our mission and our obligation in life to help others.
There are others who believe not everyone can or should be helped, and there’s no point in enabling those who can’t or won’t help themselves.
I tend to believe the first statement. I tend to live the second.
I bring this up because awhile back, my wife, one of our sons and one of my wife’s co-workers were having lunch at a small fast-food restaurant.
It is hot outside. Really hot. A guy enters the restaurant with a plastic bag slung over his shoulder and a neat, clean T-shirt with the logo of a big Dallas church on the back. He’s not sweating, even though the rest of us are.
Once inside, he stands near the door within earshot of everyone inside and loudly but politely says his wife is outside, and he needs money for food and DART transportation to travel Downtown. He doesn’t say why he is going Downtown, but we are nowhere near Downtown or a DART station.
Generally, I say “sorry” to people asking for money and briskly walk on by. Sometimes, despite my comment, they say “thanks” or “have a good day.” Sometimes they say something else that’s not worth repeating here. It’s just that I’ve heard so many stories — “my car ran out of gas” and “I just got out of jail” — that I don’t believe any of them anymore.
Occasionally, I do give people a couple of bucks if there’s something about them that makes me think maybe, just maybe, they’re telling the truth. After all, who am I to pass judgment anyway? On those rare occasions when I give someone money — and also when I don’t — I feel badly, primarily for myself.
Anyway, back to our lunch. The guy keeps talking loudly to no one in particular in the half-full restaurant, and people begin shifting uncomfortably, myself included. But the guy persists, standing directly behind me, until the store manager — a smallish woman who has run the place a long time — walks up and quietly tells the guy: “We can’t have you in here.”
About this time, my wife suggests we buy him something to eat, since that’s what he said he wanted. So I reach into my wallet, pull out a $10 bill and hand it to the manager.
I had some doubts about “enabling” the guy, but what the heck: He said he was hungry, we were in a restaurant and I had $10.
The manager acts annoyed. She clearly wants the guy gone. She asks what she should do with the money. My wife says to give the guy a “big” sandwich combo, which will just about extinguish the $10, so the guy and the manager walk over to the counter.
Next thing you know, the guy is yelling and swearing loudly at the manager, saying (this is the family friendly version): “Don’t talk to me like that! You can’t say that to me! What’s wrong with you! Get away from me!”
Here’s what the manager said to trigger that outburst: “What kind of sandwich do you want?”
The guy continues yelling as he storms out the door and down the sidewalk. The manager hands me back the $10 bill and shakes her head. My wife looks stunned. My son says we should have jumped to the manager’s defense. My wife’s co-worker doesn’t say anything, nor does anyone else in the restaurant.
As usual, I felt no better about myself for helping, and in fact I felt worse. In this case, trying to help didn’t wind up helping anyone at all. Had I done absolutely nothing, it seems as if everyone would have been better off.
We stood up, tossed our garbage and walked out of the restaurant.
Lunch was over.