Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Random acts of kindness vs. instinct

Today when I was running errands in the neighborhood, I drove by a woman standing on the side of the street. She had a cane although she was not elderly, and I assumed she was waiting for me to pass before crossing in the middle of a block. It was a gorgeous day--what happened to that rain we were promised?--and I had the top down. She lifted her hand, and I waved back. Only as I passed did I hear her say something like, "Excuse me?" or "Please." I did not stop, and then my conscience beat me up. Yet there was something just enough off that I didn't want to stop. I knew if she asked for a ride, I didn't want to let her in my car.
We're told constantly to listen to our instincts, and I believe it--but that warning conflicts with the idea of random acts of kindess. And I'd been the recipient of random acts of kindness the day before.So how do we know what to do?
A few minutes laters, as I drove by a TCU parking lot, a student shot out into the middle of the street before he looked either way--I stopped and waved him on, which he never acknowledged with a smile or a wave. My stopping was definitely instinct and not an act of kindness, but there was no sense honking angrily and bullying my way through even though I was in the right. There's the middle ground, I guess.
I once read a book, or started it, on the important or value of fear. Many mystery writers tout this book as a great source. I read a bit and gave it up, but the basic point was that fear is a great self-preservation instinct. If it feels wrong, it probably is wrong. (Oh, how I long to turn that into a comment on politics, but I'll refrain.) I think it's a valid point, but then again we don't want to live our lives in fear nor, heaven forbid, pass that on to our children and grandchildren. I do have a lot of fears like heights and deep water and so on, although not as many as my grandmother, but still I've worked hard at not foisting them off on my children.And the result is that they're a fairly fearless bunch. But I think they too feel the instinct of self-preservation.
Countering that is what we hear in church or elsewhere about being our brother's keeper, looking after our neighbor, thinking of others. That's the kind of person I want to be.
So what wouldy you have done? Would you have backed up to see what the lady with the cane wanted? Would you, as I have, spend much of the day worrying about her? Or would you dismiss it and decide your instincts were right.
Fortunately my day took a much more positive turn with the arrival of Jacob. We went out to dinner with "Aunt Betty" and had a good time. A friend at the next table talked with Jacob and then said to me, "I guess we have no issues with sociability." I laughed and agreed. And Jacob said to me, "This has been a fun day." Makes the whole day worthwhile.

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