Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What would you do? Wednesday

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?


Groovy Mom said...

Oh, great idea!

One time when I was having lunch at the Center House with my husband and my, then, infant son, a transient came up to our table and asked if I planned to eat the rest of my meal and could he have it. I said, "Oh, no, here you go," and I gave him my scraps. A few minutes later I saw the same transient walking with a guy who took him up to a window and bought him lunch. I WISHED I had responded the same way instead of giving him scraps.

I'm a little more cynical now, and probably wouldn't have given the woman on the street one of my fives. Seattle is very transient-friendly. In fact, the word gets around in other cities about it, which is why there are so many there. I don't think the street is the best place for people who are mentally ill, and wish we dealt with the problem differently in this state.

regarding the car situation? I actually did graze someone's car in the parking lot once, but there was noticeable damage. I sat in my van waiting for the owner of the car, and when he came out, I told him I had scratched his car, apologized, and gave him my contact and insurance info.

In your scenario, if I suspected my actions resulted in the damage that made it difficult for the woman to open her car I would stop and do the same.

Great post!

Lollie said...

Love this idea, but I think I may have to give several different answers for different scenarios (depending on whether it was late, I was on my own, the place was deserted, etc.).

Homeless case, I never give money, I only give food if I have it or if I can buy it. In her case, in Seattle, near a post office, in a highly trafficed area, there would HAVE to be a close by fast food restaurant. They always give out free water, she could have swalled with that. I smell scam.

Graze case, if there was percebtable damage, I would have gotten out and left a note (been there, done that), but if there was no scratch or noticable damage and she was having trouble opening the door, I would hop out and offer to open it for her, all the while assessing if my graze could in fact have impeded the door from opening, or if it was a pre-existing problem - maybe even a "Is your door always this hard to open?" If she said no, I'd cough it up, if yes, I've helped and am on my way.

jennifer said...

I'd say something. Do unto others as ...well you know what I mean. Of course, I would have done the same as you in the panhandler story. Too bad she wasn't there when you left the post office.

Alex Elliot said...

I think that's one of those situations that you have to be in so you can see what your gut feeling is. I think your idea of waiting until you got the change was a good one. Maybe someone gave her a dollar and that's why she wasn't there.

A few years ago, I grazed a car and damaged it. I called the police and they filled out an accident report. The owner then returned and was so rude to me for the damage. I remember thinking that a)he was parked illegally in a "space" directly behind my car and b)I could have told just driven off. Not that I expected him to be thrilled, but he was really bent out of shape. In answer to your question, I would get out of the car and confess.

Maureen said...

Great idea, WM. Well, I know I wouldn't be able to pull away. I would get out of the car, show her what I did and both examine her car for damage together... I don't think my conscience would let me just leave.

It's funny you should mention this... the other day after I pulled into a spot in the parkade in my old blue van, a Benz zoomed up beside me and the driver got out so fast she knocked her door into the side of my van.... and left! I don't think she saw I was still in there. I got out and examined my car, but there was nothing but some dirt scuffed. But still, she COULD have stopped to check at least! Geez!

Anonymous said...

Well, if there was no damage, after looking very closely I would call it good and leave. If there was any sort of damage I would leave a note. I would not just take off like a lot of people I see around parking lots without even looking for damage.

Next time a homeless lady asks for water, go in a store and buy her a bottle, problem solved.

Anonymous said...

I mean..a DOLLAR to buy water.

Mommy said...

Oy! I wish people who "graze" left notes. I got SLAMMED in a parking lot somewhere and no one left a note at all.

If there was no damage I would not say anything...I might help if she looked like she needed it, or asked if she wanted help getting in...but if you can not see a dent or scratch it is HIGHLY unlikely you did any damage tot he car.

I don't think that is bad...but, I may be wrong.

Worker Mommy said...

Ha, Dooz! Seriously though if I'd had a bottle of water with me I'd have absolutely given it to her. And the thought also crossed my mind to just buy her a bottle of water too instead of giving her cash.

Ann(ie) said...

I enjoyed this post. Especially since I'm in DT Seattle for work every day and have been for 11 years and can really relate. I admittedly have been known to give away too much money. Sometimes instead of cash I'll hand them my leftover Starbucks card to use the remainder of the balance. Sometimes I buy them a burger. But, there are also times I'm in a hurry, they look perfectly capable and able bodied and I brush by them hastily. I've had experiences that haunt me, too and couldn't get it off my mind. And I think to myself how blessed I am to have what I have and what's 20 seconds out of my day to hand them a dollar to make their day a little easier. I love that you walked out of that post office prepared to give her your change, girlie. I don't know if I would have handed her a five just b/c I need that precious time on my lunch hour to cross something off my TO DO list. It's sacred. I also don't love the 'in your face' approach so it would put me off initially as well. Thankfully I don't see that a lot in Seattle.

I'd say something about the car sitch. I think I'd have to.


Stacie said...

I love the idea of this being a regular wednesday thing. I think I'm late...I think today is Thursday, LOL, but here's what I'd do...I'd put the car in park and help her open the door and make sure there wasn't some sort of "internal door damage" or something like that...if there was, I'd give her my info. I have a friend who's little boy is in a wheelchair and I know how hard it can be sometimes to get him and everything all loaded up when they have appointments and such so I'm kind of sensitive to the situation.
The lady outside the post office though..had I witnessed her being agressive with the person before me I too would have just said I'm sorry and went into the post office. In hindsight after seeing her crying about it desperately later though I would have second guessed myself and next time I might say..."If you can wait for me to come out of the post office, I'll have the dollar for you then, but I need to make change first" If she wanted it that bad, she'd wait...if she needed the medication, I'd be very concerned that she got never know, it might be the kind of medication that she needs to keep her mental stability in check and I'm all for that!

Now the guy crying in the park on the other hand..I don't think I'd approach..I wouldn't feel safe at all but if I ws that worried about him, I'd find a policeman or something and have him take care of the situation..

Cherann said...

If there really was no damage, I would leave.

I also would have pointed the homeless woman in the direction of a water fountain. Or told her I'd get her a cup of water from Starbucks or something. Water is pretty much free when it's from the TAP!!!

CDP said...

Awesome idea!
I usually give money when I have some on me, and I know that it won't be used on food, but it doesn't matter. I'm OK with people who feel otherwise too, as long as they answer the person, as you did. The only approach that's wrong in my opinion is to ignore them (unless it's someone who's obviously threatening and you're afraid to make eye contact...I totally understand that). As for the car, Lollie's comment is exactly what I'd do.

Again, fabulous idea!

Miss Ann Thrope said...

I was stopped at a hog dog place and a homeless guy came up to my car, asked me if I would give him money to go NEXT DOOR to the hamburger shop. I said, "I can't give you any money, but I'll buy you a hot dog here." He said, "No, I don't want a hot dog." and left. The place next door also had a convenience store. I figured he wanted to buy some beer.

I would definitely offer to help the person open their door. But I agree with Mommy, if there was no visible damage, I don't see how it would have kept the door from opening.

Butrfly Garden said...

:) I think my comments are going to be different. haha.

As far as the transient, I do not hand out money. Ever. Maybe they are different out there, but around here some panhandlers live "better" than I do. A lot definitely make more than I do. But I support food shelves and shelters and I think that there is a way for everyone to get help. I will never know their situation, but I know I pulled myself up off the ground and made it to where I am. Seems mean, I know, but I really feel people should at least TRY to do something other than spending the whole day asking people for money for doing absolutely nothing. Even the window washer guys are at least TRYING.

As far as the grazing...I actually really nailed someone's car when I was young and had just gotten my license. I left. I've always felt bad about that, though. Now I am a perfect driver, so this would never happen to me. There are a few times that the kids have really nailed cars next to us with their doors, but luckily never left real damage (I ALWAYS check). If they had, or if I mysteriously lost my Super Duper #1 Driver skills and did hit someone's car, I would check for damage and leave a note if need be (or talk to them if they came out). The part about the wheelchair I don't think plays into how I would have handled it. If she is traveling in a wheelchair by herself, then I think she's capable of doing it without my help, even if it appears to me that she's struggling. I think if something another car did rendered her door broken that it would be obvious.

Wow. Looong comment. I really like this "WWYDW" :). Maybe someday I'll be on the ball enough to comment ON Wednesday! ;)

PS - Thanks for adding my button. Did I say that 100 times yet? That's my goal. :)

Naarski (the Mrs.) said...

I love this blog and I can't wait for tomorrow's answer (I'm a week behind). I don't give $ to the homeless. Actually, I call the police on them when I see them on freeway exits. They are litter, drink and they are actually a danger due to their panhandling being a distraction to drivers. I have seen them drink 40's while panhandling and throw fast ffod wrappers on the ground. It is annoying. A funny thing thing-on halloween, the same vagrant who is always at my freeway exit was wearing a warewolf mask. I actually laughed instead of scowled.

I would leave a note on a car I scraped. My guilt would nag me if I didn't.