There is only one thing about winter that I enjoy: the opportunity to push cars out of snowbanks. As a pedestrian I am often in the position to help people get their vehicles unstuck, and this winter has been particularly fruitful.
Why do I enjoy doing this? Because I like the way social barriers fall down when the weather gets bad. Have you noticed? Strangers smile and say hello to you on the street, because everybody is united in a common struggle, and it makes us realize how much we depend on each other. Just the fact that we have a common difficulty is enough to make us worthwhile in other people's eyes.
So I'm thrilled when I see a few people trying to get their car out of a snowbank. It's a chance to have a quick, easy social interaction with strangers that I'll never see again. It makes me happy to help and it seems to make them happy in return.
But on Saturday I began to wonder if I've stopped being "helpful" and started being "a busybody."
On the way home from Conestoga Mall the bus broke down, because the middle door had gotten jammed with snow and it wouldn't close. The bus driver -- obviously not a very handy guy -- just kept coming back and kicking the snow around, basically packing it all in tighter until the door was permanently stuck.
Meanwhile, us passengers sat there and watched him. I felt I could do a better job of fixing the door, and I could see that a few others felt that way as well. But did any of us have a RIGHT to step up and offer assistance?
Well, I did. I dug around in the snow and slush and grease while people just sat and stared at me, and as I was doing this -- and as it became more apparent that the door was simply busted -- I saw myself through the eyes of those bored, anxious passengers: they thought I was a nosy busybody, somebody who gets involved just to feel important and to get into the public spotlight, hoping to be the hero who fixes the bus and gets everybody home on time.
I couldn't deny this entirely, and coupled with the fact that I was sticking my fingers into places where they could suddenly be chopped off, I gathered up my bags and decided to walk home instead. I began to wonder what my motivations are for pushing cars out of ditches, and rescuing animals at work, and helping out in the Club Abstract coatroom when I'm not really needed.
Like every motivation, I don't think my -- or anybody's -- samaritan impulses are cut-and-dried, but the subconscious stuff is unimportant anyway. By the time I reached my home on Saturday I'd realized that people will ascribe motivations for your actions according to their own prejudices, regardless of why you think you're doing it.
There used to be a guy in New Hamburg who may parents called "Ranger Rick." He was an elderly man who spent all day walking around town, watching everything that was going on and asking everybody about their lives. My family made fun of this because we were private people who didn't want attention from others, but now -- for the first time -- I realize that Rick might not have been simply nosy...maybe he cared about people? Maybe he loved the town and was interested in what was happening in it?
I think that Rick's behaviour was due to a mix of things, and some of them weren't noble (boredom, nosiness, social difficulties). But now I realize that I looked at him the same way the people on the bus were looking at me.
No dramatic conclusion, just a thought, and something I need to keep in mind...both when I'm thinking about helping others, and when others help me.