Yesterday as I was leaving academic advising, I held the door for a middle-aged man who was a few steps behind me.
“You are way too young and pretty to be holding a door for my crusty old ass,” he laughed.
I nervously chuckled back and offered, “everyone ought to hold doors.”
We exchanged smiles and valedictions before turning opposite ways down the sidewalk.
Though his comment brightened my day, it pushed me consider why I do good deeds. Maybe it’s because I was raised in the South, or maybe because I was raised by Mona and John Flynn (hi guys!!!), but I could not, through any excuse, accept what he had said.
Everyone ought to hold doors.
There are definitely times when I choose not to help. I’ll fail to pull through a favor for a friend, pass by a person asking for money on Franklin Street, turn a blind eye to a petitioner in the pit. I’ll admit, it’s impossible to help everyone all the time. But how do we decide when to make the effort?
There are infinite considerations that we weigh subconsciously: Is the task easy? Is it convenient? Does it require my time, my money, my patience? Will it make a difference? These are all limited, valuable facets of my life and health. Do others deserve that from me? Do I want to help? Am I obligated to help?
While I don’t have clear-cut answers to those (I’m only 21, okay?), I am certain of this:
No one is too good to give of themselves. No one is above the basic laws of human kindness. No one is too young or old or pretty or plain or smart or stupid or rich or poor. We all have something to contribute. We all possess the the unwavering ability to help, to love, to support, to empathize. Giving does not limit our supply of these qualities.
Interacting on a real, human level grows our ability to understand and help and heal each other.
Herman Melville wrote, “truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not merely what it is by contrast.” We’ve all known coldness at some point, when we asked for help and didn’t receive it. Whether we needed money, or attention, or patience, or even just a ride home, there are times at which we felt like no one was in our corner. It is because of these times that we can appreciate the blessing that comes from someone showing up, lending a hand, grabbing the check, holding the door.
When you choose to withhold your help, your love, your support, your empathy, does it say more about the other person, or about you? Can you justify your decision to turn away from others?
We walk by people begging on the street, assuming they’ll use the cash for drugs. We ignore opportunities to volunteer because we know someone else will step up. We fail to show up for friends and family members because we have better things to do, or their problems aren’t our fault.
Whatever the excuse is, it’s probably unsubstantiated. You don’t know why someone might need money, or a listening ear, and you don’t know whether someone else will step up.
So go ahead. Hold the door.
If not now, when? If not you, who?