The Texture Of Things

Shortages

January 10th, 2007

It seems like there is a shortage of decent people these days. Other bloggers are writing lately about how we (generally, as a society) are losing our civility. The author at In the Trenches recently wrote that it would be very decent if people said “Thanks” to the person who holds the door for them. I agree. I say “Thanks” and I listen for it when I hold a door for someone else. It’s a little thing, but it’s the right thing to do.

But I realized today that making the small gestures, like saying “Thanks,” does not actually make me a decent person. Helping someone who has fallen face first on the poured concrete floor of my local Costco would have.

I say “would have” because I did not actually help the woman who fell. She was an elderly woman who apparently slid out of her wheelchair (my view of it was obscured by the person in front of me in line), tipped, and fell on her forehead, busting it open. There we were, dozens of people in line to pay for our oversized packages of food and office supplies, and only two people darted forward to help the woman and her companion assess the damage.

I was not among them.

I can sit here and rationalize why, and I probably am, but it basically comes down to this: I’m not a leader. I’m not the type who leaps up, organizes others, and tackles a situation. I’m more of a gatherer of information type. I don’t think well on the spot, if it’s not a familiar situation, because I am inclined to gather all of the information possible, then apply it.

So the result is that by the time I looked around to see if a Costco employee was getting proper medical help, two other people were with the woman and her wheelchair driver*, and it looked to me they were doing the right thing. They were not moving her (nor were they allowing her to move). They were checking to see that she could breathe (and she could). They were identifying where the blood was coming from (her forehead). What was left for me to do?

I knew that my leaving my cart and standing over the woman doing nothing would, well, do nothing useful. So I opted out. I did take the job that presented itself to me, which was guarding the carts of the two women who were helping out. One cart was in front of me and the other behind me. Part of this job was defending these women’s places in line from a guy farther behind us who wanted to skip over us all because there was a possibility that one of these women would not be done tending to the woman before her turn to check out came. You know, because it was this asshole’s self-appointed job that the Costco checkout lanes not stop moving in the face of an injured human being.

Those pesky injured human beings.

For the record, Costco employees did come to the rescue. It just took a while for them to find the first aid kit, so they busied themselves cleaning up the blood with paper towels and baby butt wipes, donated by a woman in another line who had just purchased them.

In the end, I felt like I didn’t do enough, but I’m willing to be content that at least I didn’t get in the way of helping the woman who fell and that I wasn’t a jerk while the whole thing went down. There are many opportunities and many ways to be decent to other people. What I want to remember about today is that if I can be helpful, I should be; if I can’t be helpful, I should do what I can to avoid interfering or making the situation worse. That is the decent thing to do.

*I couldn’t help but wonder why there was no seatbelt on the wheelchair. When they got her back in her chair, I noticed that the little platforms her feet were supposed to rest on were folded up, leaving the woman’s feet dangling just above the floor. How exactly was she supposed to keep herself in the chair? No wonder she fell out.

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