Chapter 5 – When is a favour not a favour?

I’m sure I must have seen stuff like this happen before. But the fact that it stuck in my mind makes me wonder if I don’t see it enough. I think about it and honestly, I can’t remember the last time I witnessed a random act of kindness. It was only a little thing. Sat in traffic near a bus stop, I saw a man who must have been in his 90’s. I mean honestly, he looked like a tortoise without its shell on. He was leaning against the wall, (presumably waiting for a bus – either that or he was enjoying the effect of the traffic fumes) with his walking stick leaning against the wall next to him. It was a windy day, and from where I was I saw the walking stick get blown over and land several feet away from him. A young girl (I’d guess about 15 years old) saw this and crossed the road between the stationary traffic for no other reason than to pick it up for him.

“What a nice little story” You might think. And you’d be right – it is. But it shouldn’t be newsworthy. Be honest here – how often have you seen a stranger suffer a mini-misfortune like this and thought “that’s unlucky”, or seen someone who is clearly having a worse day than you and thought “that’s a shame”. And how many times have you done something to help them?

And here lies the first of 2 issues I will outline today. Call me a sanctimonious masquerading hypocrite because I am one, but why are we all (bar a handful) inherently incapable of helping these people out? Are we too busy? Too important? Or just too wrapped up in ourselves? I suspect it is the latter. I know I’m guilty of that. I’m often in a rush to get somewhere, but not so much so that I don’t have 10 spare seconds to hold open a door for a wheelchair user. And I’m definitely not too important. So the only explanation for when I pretend not to have noticed, is selfishness.

Selfishness is built in to human DNA. That is an unfortunate fact. Hopefully at some point, evolution will stamp this out of us, but for now, maybe we should make a conscious  effort to override that aspect of our genetic make up and start improving each others lives.

And actually, that little bit of extra effort makes a big difference to peoples lives. That elderly man could not have looked happier at that moment. It had taken the girl minimal effort and about 2 minutes. I’m not taking anything away from her here, it was indeed a very kind act and she would have had to consciously decide to go out of her way to help him. So she might have been 2 minutes late to work or to meet a friend (although she shouldn’t have been has she planned ahead properly, but that’s a ramble for another day), but that 2 minutes was worth so much more to that man than it was to her (not least because statistically she has a lot more minutes left on the clock than he does). And herein lies the second issue I want to raise with you all today.

That man had evidently decided that her 2 minutes was worth £10.00 He had secured his walking stick, then reached for his wallet and extracted a £10 note which he held out to the girl. Thankfully, the girl appeared to politely decline this, smiled sweetly at the man and went on her merry way. I am saddened that this chap had felt the need to pay her for this favour, and this behaviour is all t0o common. Don’t take this to mean I am basically pissed of with the man, It was nice of him to offer, I just think it’s wrong that he felt the need to when a smile and a thank you would have done nicely.

It is a sad reflection on society that we can’t give a friend a lift, pick something up from the post office or lend someone a tenner til payday without recompense being either offered or expected. At that point, it ceases to be a favour and instead becomes a contract. And if you’re entering into a contract to earn money, I expect tax to be paid on that income, but again – that’s a ramble for another day.

So if you’re still reading this, I want to ask you a favour. Just once a week, do someone a favour. Go out of your way (for a friend or a stranger) to improve their day. It’s free, easy and rewarding to do. And if you really need an incentive – I will thank you now in advance.

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