Last week while rushing downtown during my lunch hour to mail a package to my niece for her birthday, I was accosted by a homeless woman just outside of the post office. I say accosted because this woman walked up to me, stood inches from my face, kept pace with me as I continued to walk and then asked for $1 to buy some water. She claimed she couldn’t swallow and needed to take medication. Just moments before she approached me, I had seen her pound on the door of a car motioning for the driver to open up and posed the same question. She was probably the most aggressive panhandler I’d seen. In fact she scared me a bit when she approached me. Not because she was homeless but because she was unknown to me and she’d gotten so close.
That day I didn’t carry my purse with me downtown. I’d simply shoved two fives in my pocket to mail the package I knew would cost $8.95. When the woman approached me even though I had two five dollar bills in my pocket I told her that “I was sorry”. As I walked away I heard her begin to cry and exclaim “Somebody, please, I need a dollar. I just need to get some water to take this pill and I can’t swallow”
That statement scared me even more. I can’t explain why exactly, but it frightened me. Maybe it was the sheer emotion behind her statement. Maybe I was frightened for her. What if she really couldn’t swallow? The thought of her living her life on the streets not knowing where her next meal might come from, needing medication to feel better but not sure she’d be able to get her medication much less be able to swallow it saddened me and scared me all at the same time.
Then the cynical part of me wondered if the dollar really would be spent on water. But I asked myself. What did it matter? It was only a dollar. I was conflicted and thought about her the whole time as I waited in line. Armed with my $1.05 in change I’d planned on giving it to her as I exited the post office. But she was no where in sight.
And so it ended.
But that situation has stuck in my mind since that time. Should I have given her $5 and mailed my package later ? Or did I do the right thing ? Where did she go? Is she alright?
In the end, I made the decision I made. Presented with the situation again I’m not entirely sure I would have handled it the way I did. I guess I'll never know.
Then last night, I was enthralled by a fairly new series that explores that question in depth. When faced with certain ethical dilemmas “What would you do?” As I watched the show’s staged situation unfold I asked myself what would I do if I was walking through the park and saw a man crying and in distress. Would I stop ? Would I offer help ?
I’d like to think I would but realistically I may not have. If I were by myself I may have worried about my safety and not have stopped for that reason. Again, I don’t know, but it’s certainly fascinating to explore the question. What would you do ?
So I bring you, What would you do?Wednesday. Each Wednesday, I’ll post an ethical dilemma and ideally you’ll comment honestly saying what you’d do given the situation.
Who knows this may be a total flop, perhaps this will be the one lone What would you do? Wednesday . We shall see. But perhaps this will help us realize things about ourselves and in doing so enable us to change that which we don’t like, or simply renew our confidence that we are good people. Who knows. If nothing else, maybe you’ll find the responses of others as interesting as I. Feel free to comment anonymously if you feel your answer warrants it.
Now then, todays dilemma:
Upon pulling out of your parking space you graze the car next to you. You immediately put your car in park and examine the other car for any signs of physical damage. Seeing none you get back in to your car and continue backing out. Seconds later a woman in a wheelchair arrives and struggles to open the side door. You realize it is the side you “grazed".
What would you do?